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December 21, 2013

Coolest. Book. Ever

by Brendan

I order books from Amazon fairly often — sometimes it’s a download for the Kindle, and sometimes it’s an actual paper book that comes through the mail (no Amazon ornicopters (octocopters?) in the sky yet).

When it’s paper-mailed, I tend to forget I ordered it and therefore get a surprise when it arrives.  Which happened today — Atlas of Remote Islands by Judith Schalansky.  Seemed as if it oughtta be a paper book, since it has maps; the Kindle probably just wouldn’t do justice to the graphics and layout.

St. Kilda, far north of the British Isles

St. Kilda, far north of the British Isles

Pictured above is St. Kilda, far to the Northeast of the British Isles.  The book locates it, “at the furthest edge of the United Kingdom, beyond the outermost of the Outer Hebrides” (34).  There is one village, and Schalansky notes that between the seventh and ninth day of life, “two-thirds of the newborn babies die, boys outnumbering girls” (34).  The cause is unknown — the diet, inbreeding, suffocation from peat fires in the middle of rooms.

The book is beyond amazing; I’m only 50 pages in, and I’ve read about island after island that I’ve never heard of and didn’t even imagine was possible.  Some of them were discovered hundreds of years ago, some more recently, and some were discovered long ago by famous sailors (e.g., Captain Cook, Vasco de Gama) and couldn’t be found again for a time (being in Earth’s remote regions, like the far south Atlantic or the far north seas), in a time before there were airplanes or Global Positioning Satellites.

I’ve loved maps ever since I was a child.  At St. John of the Cross School, which I attended from grades 1-6 in the 1950s, our teachers, mostly nuns, made us draw or trace maps for homework.  I guess the idea was to familiarize us, by hand and by eye and mind, with geography.  I loved doing it and have been in love with maps ever since — paper maps, globes, Google maps, everything.

Fascinating book.  Fascinating maps.

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