Atlas Obscura: A Guide to the World's Strange and Hidden Wonders

Updated on March 1, 2018
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Alexis is an avid reader who reads a wide variety of books. Her favorite genres are Science Fiction, Fantasy, manga and horror.

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Title: Atlas Obscura

Authors: Joshua Foer, Dylan Thuras & Ella Morton

Publishing Year: 2016

Pages: 470

Price on Amazon: $35.00 or $23.29 with Prime

I can still remember the day in first grade when my teacher mentioned the Loch Ness monster. She was a first-year teacher and did a lot of things outside the box (in good ways). It was also the late 1990s, and teachers in the United States had more creative liberty. So my teacher decided to talk about the Loch Ness monster in our ‘fact or fiction’ unit. She had us write two sentences describing if we thought it was real or not. Fascinated, I wrote that I thought it was real, and with that, my love of the unknown and mysterious began.

Fast-forward to one-and-a-half years ago, by which time I had many years of literary and exploration experience under my belt. It was around then that I began to learn about abandoned place exploration. After subscribing to a few youtube channels, I learned about a website called Atlas Obscura. A little research later, I became entranced with the website and eagerly awaited the release of their first book titled simply “Atlas Obscura”.

It sadly took me longer than I expected to crack it open, but a few months ago I finally did, and I was not disappointed (well, maybe I was disappointed in myself for not reading it sooner). It became a book that I read a few pages of each day in order to cherish the wealth of information contained in its pages. The book clocks in at 470 pages, so it’s a book that will take the average reader some time to get through.

This sample entry features a Monastery in Palestine, built into a cliff.
This sample entry features a Monastery in Palestine, built into a cliff.

A Wealth of Knowledge?

You may be wondering, “Alexis, what IS Atlas Obscura?”. Let me tell you, it’s a book that going to inspire you to travel. The book itself tackles strange and unusual places throughout the world. The book does a good job of finding a couple places in each country, state, region or continent. They also mix up the types of places and did a great job picking places that would interest most people. Each place contains at least one photo, a history/biography of the place, directions and additional visiting information.

If you have even a tiny love of the unknown, mysterious things or exploration you will find something to love in Atlas Obscura. The book goes through every continent in the world (including Antarctica) with each section breaking down contents by countries and subregions, depending on the size. This of course makes it easy to pick and chose what area of the world you’d like to read about if you don’t want to read about every place on earth. However, I highly recommend going straight through one time, then picking and choosing at later times.

One thing that is very clear in Atlas Obscura is the level of devotion its contributing authors and researchers have for the obscure. The authors present information in an engaging rhythm of words, giving a clear method of research that satisfies any reader. Readers with any level of thirst for the strange or obscure would be hard pressed to not find several entries that engage them.

Sure, reading entries from around the world is incredibly fascinating, but what if readers want a clump of information about a particular subject? The forward thinking authors had a plan to break of the entry style base with short articles about one subject and examples of said subject from around the world. Some examples include;

  • Hidden Tunnels around the world
  • Lake monsters in the United States
  • 'City-states' around the world

These are fun to read and are featured after an entry on a specific, in-depth example. As with the entries, the information is presented in an engaging, condensed and informative way. On a side note, the book has pictures of maps and graphics to help understand the information presented better. I would’ve liked to have seen this more in the book as there is an entry or two that wasn’t exactly clear. Re-reading these entries I realized the writer left out some details that would’ve made things more understandable. That said, there are a select few entries were information is presented in an obtuse way that requires reading between the lines.

Are there entries that I had to force myself not to skim? Yes. Some features seemed boring to me personally, but to others the reverse might be true. One word of caution regarding young readers or those who are sensitive to ‘darker content’. There some entries that is a little creepy. One example being that there is a museum in Iceland mentioned that has an exhibit of ‘human skin pants’. Just a word of caution, diving in.

Website

Of course I can’t talk about the book without mentioning the Atlas Obscura website! Their website stands as a fantastic resource for information and news stories, with new articles going up daily. It has the additional feature for users to interact with the information on the website by having the option to create an account. Once users create an account, they can browse the thousands of places on the website and add places as;

  • Been Here?
  • Want to Visit?
  • Add to List

The features are very user friendly and it's easy to access places you've saved. The website features how many other users have marked a place as 'Been Here' or 'Want to Visit' but there is no option to see individual users. While some may want to see other users lists, I personally enjoyed the anonymous nature of accounts. How obscure.

The website features categories for different cities and countries, making it easier for explorers to search only certain places. I had a few minor qualms with how listings took place initially, but ultimately I enjoy the drop down features, even if some smaller countries and cities are easier to navigate through searches.

One other aspect I love about the website is the amount of new articles that pop up on their website. Again, the editors, writers and researchers at Atlas Obscura are passionate about what they do and it's evident in the amount of new material added on a daily basis. Suffice to say, it's a website with a wealth of information (far exceeding the book, so sequel?) and one that's easy to lose track of time with.

Glowworm caves in New Zealand anyone?
Glowworm caves in New Zealand anyone?

Concluding Thoughts

Atlas Obscura is a book that I can’t imagine ever getting rid of. After all, pegging it as the ‘obscure lovers’ bible would not be a stretch. The places listed in the book are presented in an engaging way, the information is enough to satisfy the passing reader and enough to engage devoted explorers to quest for more information. The authors were clearly thinking ahead when they wrote Atlas Obscura, since each entry contains travel information for the motivated traveler.

Entries chosen for Atlas Obscura were wisely chosen as they space things out throughout the world, meaning most readers could access places in their country or state with relative ease, though some places will require multiple hours of travel. This was one aspect I had some reservations about as some places had listings that seemed lackluster or didn’t do an area justice.

One additional note on travel is that they do mention places that are not accessible for tourists. There are some places in the book that don’t allow visitors or require special permission. There is at least one entry in the book that visitors are advised against because serious risks are present, such as death. This resonates with the infamous saying “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”

With that, there isn’t much more to say about this wonderful book without attempting to rewrite it! Purchasing Atlas Obscura will not disappoint most any reader and deserves a spot on your bookshelf. Even once you finish it, you’ll be back to look up an entry or just take a break from the normal and routine.

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