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UNRULY PLACES by Alastair Bonnett Kirkus Star


Lost Spaces, Secret Cities, and Other Inscrutable Geographies

by Alastair Bonnett

Pub Date: July 8th, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-544-10157-9
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

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.

“We are headed for uncharted territory, to places found on few maps and sometimes on none. They are both extraordinary and real. This is a book of floating islands, dead cities, and hidden kingdoms,” writes Bonnett (Social Geography/Newcastle Univ.; Left in the Past: Radicalism and the Politics of Nostalgia, 2010, etc.). The book is a whole lot more: a passionate defense of place and a swing at the “generic blandscapes” that have come to occupy much of the landscape, eating away at our sense of self, especially as a place-making species with an appreciation that our presence helps give the world its local color—that we create place as much as we inhabit it. Bonnett does not bring a zealot’s nuttiness to the cause, but his ability to get under the skin of a place—places that are often fierce, dark, demanding and strange—brings geography back into focus as integral to human identity. They are, by and large, outré: decoy villages set aflame to confuse nighttime aircraft bombers; trash islands; exclaves and breakaways; pirate towns; free territories established by runaway slaves; Potemkin villages and forbidden places (black sites). The author chronicles his exploration of St. Petersburg to witness the politics of place names and Mecca to experience Jane Jacobs’ worst nightmare. There are “urban exploration as a kind of geographical version of surrealist automatic writing” and landscapes “the British police designate as public sex environments.” And there are the disappeared: ancient sultanates, a blue-asbestos mining town, a closed city once dedicated to making nuclear weapons. Bonnett brings us to each place from an angle of surprise and wonder.

A scintillating poke to our geographical imaginations.