Monday, May 8, 2017

Atlas Obscura by Joshua Foer, Dylan Thuras, and Ella Morton

Looking for information about Grand Canyon National Park? The Smithsonian Museums? Perhaps the Great Wall of China, or maybe the Eiffel Tower? Then Atlas Obscura is not the travel guide for you. Looking for information on where to go to partake in local delicacies such as eggs boiled in the urine of young boys? Interested in the distinction between the largest ball of twine collected by one person and the largest ball collected by more than one person?

Then you’ve come to exactly the right book.

Written by three writers/editors of the Atlas Obscura website (Joshua Foer, Dylan Thuras, and Ella Morton), Atlas Obscura the book is a massive compendium of weird, remote, and always interesting geographical spots and historical remembrances. If you enjoy the website, you will certainly enjoy this “Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders.” This is not a book for tourists, and this is not a book for the meek. This is a book for the emboldened, for those who want to see the world’s hidden places.

Structured as a geographical tour through the continents, Atlas Obscura is filled with examples of natural wonders: caves, lakes, deserts, and the like. But more interesting to me, likely because they are also more unknown to me, are the human-made wonders. Throughout the book's survey of the various continents are examples of what one person can accomplish through sheer will. Castles, pyramids, shrines—all built by individuals on their own over a lifetime. And of course there are also the oddities: the ice cream parlor in Venezuela that serves over 900 flavors, including Ham + Cheese and Sardines and Brandy; devices used to give tobacco smoke enemas in the 18th and 19th centuries; books bound in the skin of their authors; the "body farm" in Tennessee, where scientists study decomposition; an anechoic chamber in Minneapolis, where the absence of sound freaks out visitors; the one-mile square desert near the Arctic Circle ringed by snow-topped mountains.

Saturday was Obscura Day 2017 on, and this book will make you want to take part in the next one. We often forget the vast weirdness of the world, as well as the isolation that still exists in some places. And though the increasing "stripmallification" of travel pushes people to the same spots, pushes people toward comfort rather than curiosity, Atlas Obscura makes childhood wonder return to jaded adult minds.

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