Unruly Places (Alastair Bonnet)

I love this weird planet of ours, with all its strange nooks and crannies.  Sure, some people get the chance to go on more journeys than others, through no fault of their own.  Plane tickets are expensive (though cheaper than they were ten or twenty years ago), and it can be hard to take the time off from work and other life obligations to go on any truly long trips.


Unruly Places is a book about those nooks and crannies.  I believe that the world is a whole lot more interesting than we tend to believe.  In this age of a lack of mystery, it can be easy for us to start to think that everything has been discovered, and that there are no surprises left.  This book proves that idea wrong.

Bonnett has written a fascinating exploration of oddities across the globe.  From a surprisingly thoughtful piece about the concrete island in the center of a road, to descriptions of places like Sealand that sit in legally ambiguous “neutral” territory, to strange liminal spaces between the borders of countries and ideas, to stranger places.  This book is full of pieces designed to make you think about the relationship between the maps we draw and the lives we live.  It’ll make you consider whether the artificial lines between us are really as solid as we imagine.

Each chapter of Unruly Places consists of a category, such as Secret Spaces, which is broken down into specific places to learn about (complete with latitude and longitude coordinates).  Did you know about the jagged edges of parcels of land throughout urban areas like NYC that you can buy (coming up with a use for them is a different story).  But, then, this isn’t a book about useful spaces, it’s a book about unruly spaces.  The author quotes bemoans our societal “indifference to the specialness of place”.  He also says, in an especially lyrical passage, “Place is a protean and fundamental aspect of what it is to be human.  We are a place-making and place-loving species.”  I agree with him on this–it can be all too easy to focus less on these unique spaces within the physical world in which we live and more on the much more ethereal and abstract space within our online world.

I’m not arguing that we should ignore the online world.  This isn’t about being a Luddite.  Rather, it’s about exploring the real world.  We can’t continue to let the richness of the places around us be obscured and ignored in favor of the richness of our online existence–that would be a true tragedy.

I loved this book.  I found it to be a fascinating look at both places I knew about and places I hadn’t ever imagined existed.  It isn’t just an atlas, either–it is full of thoughts about how those places fit into our collective consciousness, and about what those places mean in a bigger sense.  I cannot recommend it to you enough.  If it helps, it was also incredibly cheap for my Kindle (and looks to still be pretty inexpensive).  If any of this review sounds interesting to you, give it a shot!  And then go exploring.

Buy it here.

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