Atlas of Remote Islands
Format: HardcoverChange
Price:$18.16+Free shipping with Amazon Prime
Your rating(Clear)Rate this item


There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.

73 of 79 people found the following review helpful
That impossible-to-please friend, that cranky relative, that coffee table begging for something more interesting than last Sunday's New York Times Magazine --- worry about them no more.

Here is your holiday gift, your birthday present, your living room's conversation-igniter.

And no worries that "Atlas of Remote Islands (Fifty Islands I Have Never Set Foot on and Never Will)" will be showing up on legions of gift lists. [To buy "Atlas of Remote Islands" from Amazon, click here.] Though published by Penguin, the biggest recognition the book has received to date is the German Book Office's October Book of the Month. The author, Judith Schalansky, is a German designer and novelist whose last book was "Fraktur Mon Amour, a study of the Nazis' favorite typeface.

Schalansky got interested in maps and atlases for the most personal of reasons. She was born in East Berlin; when she was 10, East and West Germany merged, "and the country I was born in disappeared from the map." With that, she lost interest in political maps and became fascinated with the basic building blocks of Earth's land masses : physical topography.

Fascinating stuff.

You doubt me?

Consider: Schalansky sees a finger traveling across a map as "an erotic gesture."

Consider: Schalansky disdains any island you can easily get to. The more remote the destination, the more enthusiastic she is for it. Like Peter I Island in the Antarctic --- until the late 1990s, fewer people had visited it than had set foot on the moon.

Consider: Schalansky believes "the most terrible events have the greatest potential to tell a story" --- and "islands make the perfect setting for them." Thus, the line at the start of the book: "Paradise is an island. So is hell."

The result? Fifty islands. The world's loneliest places, in lovely two-page spreads, with geographical information and curious histories on the left, and, on the right, a map of the hapless land mass set on a deceptively peaceful blue background.

Start in the Far North, at Lonely Island, where the average annual temperature is -16 degrees. In the Indian Ocean, on Diego Garcia, is a secretive British military base with a golf course where 500 families once lived. A hundred twenty million crabs begin life on Christmas Island; millions of penguins inhabit Macquarie Island. France tested its hydrogen bomb on Fangataufa, after which no one was allowed to set foot on it for six years. On Pukapuka, there is no word for "virgin." The Banabas hang their dead from their huts until the flesh disappears; they store the bones under their houses.

And, to give you a sense of Schalansky's lovely, ironic style as a writer:

St. Kilda, United Kingdom
There are sixteen cottages, three houses and one church in the only village on St. Kilda. The island's future is written in its graveyard. Its children are all born in good health, but most stop feeding during their fourth, fifth or sixth night. On the seventh day, their palates tighten and their throats constrict, so it becomes impossible to get them to swallow anything. Their muscles twitch and their jaws hang loose. Their eyes grow staring and they yawn a great deal; their mouth stretch in mocking grimaces. Between the seventh and ninth day, two-thirds of the newborn babies die, boys outnumbering girls. Some die sooner, some later: one dies on the fourth day, another not till the twenty-first.

Amsterdam Island, France
Everyone who stays on Amsterdam for longer than a year is examined by a medical officer from the south of France to check that he is coping with the long period of restriction of movement and the confined, purely masculine environment. No woman has visited longer than two days. At night, the men gather in the small video room in Great Skua to watch one of the porn films from their personal collection. Each man sits in a row on his own. The loudspeakers emit grunts and groans, and the air is heavy with the musky scent of the bull seals.

Are these stories true? The author is cagey:

That's why the question whether these stories are `true' is misleading. Every detail stems from factual sources...however I was the discoverer of the sources, researching them through ancient and rare books, and I have transformed the texts and appropriated them as sailors appropriate the lands they discover.

Transformed? Well, why not --- it's not like you're booking a ticket to visit any of these places. Just the opposite. Reading in your favorite chair, sipping a cuppa, you can conclude there's no place like home.
44 commentsWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on October 26, 2010
As a book lover you can become forlorn with the constant barrage of why physical books and the brick-and-mortar bookstore are obsolete in these days of digital book hype and the pursuit of immediate gratification in quick, small portions.

"Atlas of Remote Islands" is the refutation of those perceived realities.

I serendipitously came across this book as I was meandering through a bookstore...was arrested by the book displayed (tall, thin) and the sub title ("Fifty Island I Have Never Set Foot On and Never Will"). Okay, okay, I'm posting this review on Amazon... but the book is so good that if your local bookstore doesn't have it, then buy it wherever you can!

Not only is the concept for the book just so cool.... it is also beautifully presented, each entry wonderfully laid out and completely engrossing. This is a book you curl up with in your favorite chair on a dark winter night with a hot cup of something in arms reach.

This book is exactly why the book - the physically opening the cover and turning the pages book - will never become obsolete.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on December 27, 2010
This is a book you have to hold in your hand, page through, and imagine about. Then you put it on the shelf. Then you take it down and look at it again. Repeat.

Really, it's very beautiful, very inspiring, very mysterious.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on July 3, 2012
I read this slim volume while browsing in the bookstore, then decided it was only fair to buy it. The cartography is a little disappointing - very little here but the shape of the islands - and I found myself going to other maps and Google Earth for a better look. The brief blurbs about the islands follow no set pattern: some cover geography, others are based on history, pop culture, philosophy... Many were fascinating. The short biographical piece was interesting as well, like a greatly expanded "About the Author." In the end, I was wishing it had been 100 remote islands, not 50, so I'd have to say I really enjoyed the book.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Ms. Schalansky's book on remote islands is pleasing work on lands that are located in remote places of the earth and some that, while located close to more populated islands, have some interesting stories behind them. The book consists of a short essay summarizing the book and descriptions of the islands broken down by location (Arctic Ocean, Atlantic Ocean, etc.), a glossary of terms and a short index.

The stories that interested me the most were the histories of Diego Garcia (the natives being removed for the purpose of constructing a military base), Pingelap (where inbreeding of the natives led to a high incidence of color blindness), Tikopia (where infanticide was (is?) condoned to control population growth and preserve scarce resources and Takuu (missionaries and researchers are not allowed on the island). Atlasova Island's story interested me as well for its description of a perfectly symmetrical volcano rising up out the sea just off Russia's Kamchatka peninsula.

Some of the stories however were just descriptions of barren rocks such as those in the Arctic Ocean and the islands close to Antarctica which left me to want to learn more history about these places. I think the book could have included a bibliography which could have directed the reader to more in depth coverage that would given some flavor to some of the interesting stories found in this book. A nice work that should find itself in a cartographer's book collection.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Judith Schalansky's "Atlas of Remote Islands" is not a cartographic work of reference as much as a beautiful objet d'art. Enraptured with looking at distant places on the maps during her upbringing in East Germany, Schalansky came up with this set of "islands I have never set foot on and never will". Do you know where St. Kilda, Tromelin or Ile Saint-Paul are? Chances are, you've never even heard the names. Schalansky makes the case that the unreachable is the infinitely romantic, and this book will lead you into reveries on the most distant places on our planet.

This book was originally published in German. I would direct readers to the English translation published by Penguin UK (with the ISBN of 978-014311820). There is also a smaller English-language edition entitled "Pocket Atlas of Remote Islands", but it's not quite as beautiful as the full-size one.

After a brief introduction by the author, each island is given a two-page presentation. Each left-hand page contains a set of distances between the island and the nearest civilized points on Earth, a timeline and a brief prose passage telling us something of the island's landscape or history. The facing right-hand page contains a map of the island painted in black, white, orange (for cities and roads) and yellow (for dunes and atolls) against a blue backdrop. Having trained in typography, Schalanksy also typeset the text beautifully. Every element of every page just stands in a perfectly balanced relationship with the others.

The brief prose passages in each entry do not claim to sketch the entirely of the island's history. (This seems to have infuriated other readers here who were expecting a work of reference.) Instead, we get only a single event. Some of these are shameful episodes in history, such as the sexual abuse of women in these isolated communities or the expulsion of the indigenous inhabitants of Diego Garcia to build a US military base. Some tell of shipwrecks in past centuries, where castaways had to endure a long wait before being rescued. Still others give an us an impression of the wild nature on these barren, windy and wave-battered rocks.

I'd recommend this mainly to those search for a gift for a wanderlust-driven friend, or lovers of Edward Gorey who dig books that are light on facts but rich in visual presentation.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on December 30, 2010
For some unknown reason I've always been attracted to Atlases and have many in my library. This one is a work of art. The stories Schalansky tells about each island are written in charm and artistic style. The way the maps are graphically presented gives one an emotional feeling of remoteness. The detail that was invested in the overall presentation and writing makes it shear pleasure for dabbler and dreamers like me.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on June 4, 2013
I bought this book for myself because I saw it on another website and HAD to have it. I've always had a fascination with islands- the more remote, the better. The author seems to share my unique wanderlust and presents the carefully gathered information in a captivating way. Each island has a little story written for it, which is both interisting and very informational. The graphics are beatutifully done and I have recommended this book to many people already. Makes a fantastic gift for anyone who loves maps, islands, remote travel or anything of the like. I'm so glad I picked this up!! Way better than just reading Wikipedia articles all night on random places haha (although I found it impossible to read through the section on any one island without rushing to Google to get more information!)
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on July 1, 2011
I loved this book!

This was right up my alley. I've always like exiting and remote places. This book was a great sample of some very interesting places. Just a little taste, if you will, that can entice more research into all of these interesting islands.

A word of caution, don't get this book if you're expecting in depth information or even photos of these places. Each island has a sort of antidotal write up or story about it and a map like illustration of the island.

P.S. This book is perfect for "bathroom reading"!
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on December 15, 2012
There is nothing wrong with the book. The only thing that I am disappointed about is that I thought that there would be some beautiful pictures from these remote islands. Each island got a one page synopsis and then one page for a map of the island. It's just less beautiful than I thought it would be. I was hoping for a great coffee table book or a gift for a friend, and it's much less exciting than I anticipated. It truly is an "atlas" in the map sense.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse

Send us feedback

How can we make Amazon Customer Reviews better for you?
Let us know here.