Since 2009, Atlas Obscura has been one of my favorite internet rabbit holes. I sometimes spend hours on the site, which collects curiosities from across the globe, bouncing from enchanted forests to Russian space-age monuments. Now, the site’s founders have turned their website’s broad array of knowledge into a book that compiles some of their best finds.
Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders, written by Joshua Foer, Dylan Thuras, and Ella Morton isn’t a traditional travel guide. You won’t find popular sites like the Pyramids of Giza, Stonehenge, or the Great Wall of China in its pages. Instead, you’ll learn about the Pyramids of Meroë, American Stonehenge, and Mount Roraima. It’s like traveling with a local, rather than relying on the top-voted spots on TripAdvisor.
This book covers the entire world: split into sections by each continent and then country, each country gets a handful of entries. Some are expanded entries that go a bit more in-depth on individual locations, such as Ireland’s Ruins of the MV Plassey or China’s Unit 731 Museum. Other entries are bite-sized paragraphs, like a blurb on Australia’s Boab Prison Tree or Alaska’s Adak National Forest. Each entry also includes some details about how to visit, as well as coordinates.
As I read through this book, I was struck by one particular epiphany: there’s so much more of the world to see. Sure, the familiar pyramids and ancient ruins posterized by travel agents are important stops, but there is so much more to the world than what you can see on a postcard. This is a book that goes off the well-traveled path, and actively encourages its readers to explore the world, rather than travel it.
There are two drawbacks here: because of its large size, this is probably not a great thing to pack up in your luggage (unless you get the eBook version). Second, any type of book that’s written from a huge website is going to be constrained by the number of pages you can bind together. The website has a considerable amount of additional information on it, and you’ll probably find yourself reaching for your phone or computer to do some follow-up research as you flip through the pages.
When I was growing up, my parents had books such as National Geographic’s Picture Atlas of Our World, Images of the Civil War, and The Unexplained, which I spent hours as a child poring over. Atlas Obscura is a perfect modern follow-up to the format, and it’s certainly going on the lowest shelf of my bookshelf for my own son to borrow.