The Atlas

Despite my pre-occupation with things digital, from pictures to e-books to audiobooks, I do have an unfortunate book buying habit.

My shelves are creaking under the rows of guidebooks, travel writing books, bird watching books and photography books. And atlases.  The atlas collection ranges from 1898 through to 2010.
At one end of the collection is a copy of The XXth Century Citizen’s Atlas edited by J.G. Bartholemew in 1898, which includes countries from Abyssinia to Zululand, and there is a plate marked “British Empire”, with almost 11 million square miles shaded in the traditional pink. Further into the volume, the “South Polar Regions” plate includes the annotation “ANTARCTICA (Unexplored South Polar Continent)”.

Further along the shelf is The Oxford Home Atlas of the World, which has been on my various desks since it was a homework reference book in 1968.  The list of countries in that volume runs from Afghanistan to Zambia, and there isn’t “British Empire” listed anywhere.

The next landmark, chronologically, is a concise edition of The Times Atlas of the World, this particular edition is dated 1996.  Afghanistan still starts the list, but the end point is now Zimbabwe.

If I want a different perspective on the world there are a bundle of more esoteric volumes including an Atlas of World History and an Atlas of Victorian and Edwardian Britain, and more radically a copy of the Peters Atlas of the World, which claims to show ‘The Earth in true proportion for the first time”.  This is a fantastic volume, and it really is refreshing to see the world in a different shape.

The newest atlas in my collection is also my favourite.

This atlas, published in 2010, isn’t one I’ll turn to as a reference when trying to figure where the latest international news story is happening, but it is one that I turn to when I want to be transported by my imagination.

The Atlas of Remote Islands by Judith Schalansky is delightful in so many ways.   The author, who grew up in East German without the prospect of international travel, not only wrote the book she also designed every aspect of it right through to creating the font that has been used.

The subtitle of the book Fifty Islands I have not visited and never will perhaps gives a flavour of how travel was regarded behind the Berlin Wall.  I often wonder whether the author has visited any of the islands listed in the book.  Every time I look at the book I start to think about how I might get to some of the islands that are listed.

I don’t think I’ll get to all of the islands, but I can cross two off the list already, and hopefully I’ll get to a third one later in the year.

Images of Ascension and Deception Islands
Two of the Fifty Islands, Ascension Island (left) and Deception Island.

1 comment:

Marcia Taams said...

Viewing an atlas is an interesting and not so common hobby; going beyond the easiness of nowadays' traveling can make you become part of a wonderful fantasy, in which you are the sole protagonist. It's nice to see the evolution of the world and how it changed everything.