04 April 2012

An Atlas of Remote Islands

To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive.
—Robert Louis Stevenson

Judith Schalansky (Penguin 2010)  
"There are still places on earth that are unknown.
The Atlas of Remote Isands is perfect for the traveler or romantic in all of us."

As a child I was fascinated by maps and globes and would thumb through an old Goodes World Atlas to find the locations I was reading about, pinpointing the routes of the characters as they made their way through territories and countries I'd never seen.  Years later, my trusty Goodes is still my go-to atlas when reading the Raj Quartet, Kim, Out of Africa, or any book set in the late 19th or early 20th c. because instead of the newer independent country names, its maps are still a sea of British colonial pink.

Ah, but this book is about remote and tiny places—
the kind you may never read about and are highly unlikely ever to visit. 
Each Island has a two-page spread: on one side the beautifully rendered map,
on the other the island's grid reference, size, official name, territorial "owner", 
its distance from other islands and coasts, tidbits about it's discovery and history
and the author's own quirky perception of the place.  

Take Amsterdam Island, for example:

Amsterdam Island (France)
French Nouvelle Amsterdam ['New Amsterdam']
58 km | 25 residents
4,290 km to South Africa
3,370 km to Australia
90 km to St. Paul Island
18 March 1522: sighted by Juan Sebastian de Elcano
June 1633: named by Anthonie van Diemen after his ship, Nieuw-Amsterdam
1949: construction of meteorological station 
"No one is allowed to settle here, so the personnel at the research station changes constantly. Some of the men stay for only a few months, but most for a year and a half, on the island that they call simply Ams or La Base. None speak English and all greet each other every day with a handshake. There is no boat. Where would they take it? This place is a stray piece of France, a cross on a blue nowhere on the various maps of the world that are pinned to the walls...."

There are fifty islands in all, and each page is like a small journey over time and space.

Bear Island ~ Lonely Island ~ Rudolf Island
Annobon ~ Ascension Island ~ Bouvet Island ~ Brava
Saint Helena ~ Southern Thule ~ St. Kilda ~ Trindade ~ Tristan da Cunha
Amsterdam Island ~ Christmas Island ~  South Keeling Islands ~ Possession Island 
Diego Garcia ~ Saint Paul Island ~ Tromelin Island ~ Pacific Ocean ~ Antipodes Islands 
Atlasov Island ~ Banaba Island ~ Bokak Atoll ~ Campbell Island ~ Clipperton Atoll 
Cocos Island ~ Easter Island ~ Fangataufa ~ Floreana Island ~ Howland Island 
Iwo Jima ~ Macquarie Island ~ Napuka ~ Norfolk Island ~ Pagan ~ Pingelap 
Pitcairn Islands ~ Pukapuka ~ Raoul Island ~ Rapa Iti ~ Robinson Crusoe 
Semisopochnoi Island ~ Socorro Island ~ St George Island ~ Takuu Atoll ~ Tikopia 
Deception Island ~ Franklin Island ~ Laurie Island ~ Peter I Island


  1. I like that Stevenson quote! I've never heard it before. I tease my husband because he seems to enjoy the trip planning much more than the actual trip. Doing itineraries, poring over maps, reading about places. I like showing up! Haha! We had to work out our travel styles early.... He would love that volume.

  2. He sounds like me, Jacqueline! This book is the perfect gift for an "armchair traveller".