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Unruly Places: Lost Spaces, Secret Cities, and Other Inscrutable Geographies Hardcover – July 8, 2014

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (July 8, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 054410157X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0544101579
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #20,533 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Bonnett divides places into helpful categories. Hidden Geographies includes tunnel labyrinths below old cities and oddities like an established community within a Philippine cemetery. We visit Dead Cities like the skyscrapered, yet bizarrely empty, attempts by China and North Korea to proclaim ideological success. Unused spaces enclosed by highways fall within No Man’s Lands. Lost Spaces range from tiny islands that come and go, with shifting conditions, to Leningrad, Russia, which was renamed St. Petersburg. International airspace, a peninsula-consuming Greek monastery, and a Somalian pirate feral city fall under Spaces of Exception. A section on breakaway nations includes a chunk of India within an Indian enclave in Bangladesh. Floating Islands come made of pumice, trash, ice, and modern building materials. The strongest places concern human adaptation. These Ephemeral Places contain a parking lot where work-desperate airport employees, including many pilots, lay over in RVs. The erudite Bonnett explores the roots of place all the way to childhood hideaways, yet the book doesn’t build. The many locations remain detached. --Dane Carr


“It’s not so much the idea of the journey, or even movement that Alastair Bonnett has on its mind...Here, it’s all about location, location, location...He takes the reader to ‘the ends of the earth and the other side of the street,’ illuminating why it is that place matters and demands our attention – lest we lose the very essence of who we are..." --The New York Times Book Review

"Delightfully quirky." —Ron Charles, Washington Post

"Fascinating...A conversational, thoroughly researched, and very engaging armchair tour of what might be seen as a parallel planet to the one we live in every day—one in which nothing is ordinary...Alastair Bonnett is a most excellent traveling companion." —The Atlantic

"Unruly [Places] overflows with amazing examples of the world's hidden places." —Entertainment Weekly

"[Bonnett] takes us to one-of-a-kind, off-the-grid areas—from Cappadocia to Camp Zeist to Chitmahais—in this inspired, instructive travelogue on earth's lost spaces, breakaway nations, no-man's-lands, floating islands, and secret enclaves." —Elle

"Bonnett is an excellent guide and literary companion. He wears his learning and his prejudices lightly, leaving the reader to join the geopolitical dots. He succeeds in making the strange familiar and the familiar strange, fully justifying his conclusion that "ordinary places are also extraordinary places; the exotic can be around the corner or right under our feet." —Los Angeles Times

"A chronicle of the world’s missing and hidden treasures...Bonnett manages to imbue the mundane—a traffic island in Newcastle, England—with the same gravitas given to the politically and historically weighty—an empty decoy city in North Korea meant to lure defectors from its southern neighbor." —The Daily Beast

"Alastair Bonnett shows us that our maps still hold plenty of secrets...The geography of the unknown has never been so comprehensible." —Mother Jones

"[A] delightfully outlandish travelogue. You’ll never look at a map—or your own backyard—the same way again." —O, The Oprah Magazine

"Fascinating...A comforting read, much like dipping into a highly intelligent travel magazine, a book that teases the imagination while remaining firmly rooted in the factual." —Boston Globe

"If you’re someone who can happily while away the hours leafing through old atlases or scrolling through Google Maps, this is the book for you...[A] wonderful book." —Seattle Times

"An ideal travel tome."  —Pauline Frommer, Frommers.com

"Looking at even the most familiar landscapes through his eyes opens up new ways of seeing. " —The Columbus Dispatch

"Thought-provoking...Unruly Places is a timely call to rethink our relationship to the map." —Men's Journal

"Fizzingly entertaining and enlightening." —The Telegraph

“A fascinating delve into uncharted, forgotten, and lost places. . . . not just a trivia-tastic anthology of remote destinations but a nifty piece of psychogeography, explaining our human need for these cartographical conundrums." —Wanderlust

“Unruly Places works to re-enchant the world by introducing us to unlikely places: places that exist but cannot be found on any map, places on maps that do not exist, islands that disappear or suddenly appear, deserts that form out of lakes, and labyrinths beneath cities. Carefully avoiding nostalgia and rose-tinted topophilia, Bonnett manages to reveal a myriad of ways in which place and geography still matter.” —Tim Cresswell, author of Place, An Introduction and professor of history and international affairs, Northeastern University

“Through dozens of punchy tales, Bonnett takes us on an imaginative grand tour of the most exceptional places in the world, reminding us that even in an age of seemingly total surveillance, the world is teeming with geographic mysteries.” —Bradley Garrett, author of Explore Everything

"An inspiring compendium of unusual destinations that will ignite your wanderlust." —Shelf Awareness

"Bonnett’s charming, pensive prose and light-handed erudition illuminates the stubborn human impulse to find a home in the unlikeliest places." —Publishers Weekly

"A wonderful collection of a few dozen geographical enchantments, places that defy expectations and may disturb and disorient yet rekindle the romanticism of exploration and the meaning of place...A scintillating poke to our geographical imaginations." —Kirkus Reviews (STARRED review)

"This book will satisfy armchair travelers as well as those who appreciate thought-provoking journeys." —Library Journal


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Customer Reviews

The blurb on the inside cover is not an accurate description of the content.
For anyone interested in "the last blank spot on the map", or its modern equivalent, this is a good book.
William B. Dwinnell IV
Perhaps the author couldn't think of anything clever or snide to say about it.
a scientist

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By S. McGee TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 15, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
When Jeremiah Heaton hit the headlines last week for traveling across an arid stretch of southern Egypt to Bir Tawil and planting a flag on an unclaimed, uninhabited 800-square arid block of land that neither Sudan nor Egypt want, claiming it in the Heaton name as the Kingdom of North Sudan in order to fulfill a promise to his seven-year-old daughter Emily that he would make her a princess, I'm willing to bet that I'm one of a handful of people in the world that knew where the hell this place was or why on earth it was up for grabs in this way. Why? Because I'd read my way through Alastair Bonnett's fascinating assortment of profiles of this and dozens of other geographic oddities, from a 27 kilometer-long road that separates border posts (leaving the land in between technically neither Guinea nor Senegal, or both...) to the dead city of Agdan in Nagorno Karabakh, to tiny "gutterspaces" (available for sale, but just trying occupying one...) in New York City and the vast floating garbage islands in the Pacific. A few of these places I had heard of, like Sealand -- the attempt to build an independent nation on an abandoned oil rig -- but others, like layers of enclaves, were new to me. (Imagine: an Indian community, inside a Bangladeshi enclave, in an Indian village, inside Bangladesh...)

This book was a source of endless fascination, and left me pondering an equally endless numbers of questions revolving around our relationship to the space we occupy, and to the ways that our sense of identity is bound up with that space. We may believe that we live in an era where geographical exploration is a thing of the past, but that is less true that we might believe, as Bonnett points out. Part of it may simply be a matter of describing what we mean when we use the phrase.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By David Wilson on July 12, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Before I bought the book I read both the favorable and the critical reviews and I was prepared to be a bit disappointed. On the contrary, I found the book completely fascinating. There is rich detail, interesting facts and high-quality writing throughout. As a senior citizen who's done a lot of traveling over the years, I was surprised that I hadn't even heard of most of the places in the book and I commend the author for his most impressive research skills. I buy a lot of books on Amazon -- usually several a week -- and I'd place this book in the top three I've purchased in the last several years (I've never written a review before but this book deserves an excellent one). Great reading.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By D. Greenbaum VINE VOICE on June 8, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"Unruly Places" is a series of short essays, grouped thematically, about various unique spaces, both natural and unnatural. These spaces are not organized by geography but rather by what kind of spaces they are, i.e. lost cities, no-mans' lands, breakaway nations, and even floating islands. Each essay is a short, digestible chunk, making this book really easy to read in bits and pieces. The writing style is playful and authentic, and you are almost certain to both learn a few new things and pause every now and then to think. The book doesn't include any maps, but each place has a latitude and longitude associated with it, making it quite enjoyable to pop open Google Maps and explore any interesting place you might find.

"Unruly Places" is a unique and fun travelogue that will appeal to anyone interested in a few of the less tame places on our very well-mapped and explored globe.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By J. Wiles Parker VINE VOICE on May 26, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Warning: This is not a travel guide. It is a book about the history and significance of boundaries, or a lack therof. It is not meant to be comprehensive. With Unruly Places, author Alastair Bonnett challenges readers to rethink the idea of "place" and how people interact with the world. The book consists of eight main sections that contain short essays on 4 to 10 different places that somehow connect to the section title. The essays are only about 4-5 pages each and are easily digestible. One of the challenges of reading the book is orienting to what the author is aiming to do. This is not exactly easy, at the start, but becomes more so the more you get into it. Since Bonnett is a professor of social geography, his expertise is in how we look at the world and the places we inhabit or don't inhabit. There is a philosophical bent throughout the book along with it being filled with locations mundane and extraordinary. While it would be easy to believe that this book is telling you about why this part of the world or that part is unique or inscrutable, what you really get a tour of ideas and concepts regarding people's perception of place. Each essay does not strictly adhere to the heading. Rather, the attempt is to provide background, history, a sense of time, and, in the end, place. Because the idea of place is such an innate part of human existence and how we relate to our surroundings, a lack of place or feeling that one has no place is just as valid a feeling as seen throughout the book.

Some people will love the almost random nature of the writing of Unruly Places. Others will likely complain that it feels too disconnected at times. Personally, I quite enjoyed the trip through different theories on the idea of place.
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