Field Guide to the Strange and Unusual


Quinta da Regaliera in Sintra, near Lisbon, Portugal. Me, in blue, in the deep, dark, moss-covered Initiation Well where Masonic ceremonies allegedly took place. One of the fantastic, fascinating sites highlighted in the book

Book review: Atlas Obscura, by Joshua Foer, Dylan Thuras and Ella Morton (Amazon / Book Depository)

How often do you hear of travel guides promising to lead you off the beaten path? And how often do those revealed destinations actually deliver on their promise, turning out to be something wonderful and worthwhile that you would’ve never found, seen, heard of, or even imagined without some curation or guidance? In my own experience as a travel writer and frequent explorer of whatever strange and unusual stuff I can get close to, not nearly as often as I’d like.

If you doubt that this guide is anything beyond the ordinary, try to remember the last time you saw a supplementary page in a travel guide offering additional sights of interest titled, “Other Mummified Buddhist Monks”. Mummies not your thing? How about the rat king of Nantes, Canadian garter snake orgies, or Saddam Hussein’s illegal Qur’an written in his own blood, his 60th birthday gift to himself?

For the less macabre, what about an exploration of the world’s micronations, a museum that chronicles ended relationships, some of the most bizarre architecture on earth, photos of impossibly stunning natural phenomena, surreal relics of Communism, or a comprehensive map of visitable nuclear test sites?

It’s all here. And more. So, so much more.

Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders, grew out of the popular website of the same name, a curated collection of short articles about weird, mysterious places around the world, with enlightening background and historical information thrown in. As a fan of the site, I couldn’t wait to see how their guidebook would be done. I read an advanced ebook copy for review courtesy of Netgalley, and it was gorgeously produced. But this is a book I’d like to have a physical copy of, because it’s the perfect content to page through and explore slowly. Beautifully photographed and arranged, it would make such a unique coffee table book.

Starting in Europe and trekking through a myriad of attractions that wrap around the globe all the way to what you can see and do should you find yourself in Antarctica, this unusual travel guide is an explorer’s dream. For those whose travel interests gravitate towards cabinets of curiosities, a good and weird wunderkammer, medical oddities, astrological and natural or scientific marvels, the strangest of saintly reliquaries and religious objects, and lots of catacombs and unconventional tombs (this list is far from complete; the scope of topics is so wonderfully eclectic) this is the guide for you. In addition to helping discover some of the lesser known gems of the world’s weirdness, it provides geographic coordinates and a handy map of each country and its surrounding region with the mentioned sites mapped out, so you can get a geographic idea or plan an itinerary.

I’ve never read a book that inspired so much wanderlust. In fact, that’s the only down side  – as exciting and inspiring as it is to read about all the strange and wonderful places lurking out there in the world, it’s hard to do so from home! Even without any travel plans on the horizon, I learned so much from the history, science, and culture described here, and made a big list of things I want to read more about. No matter where you go, there’s something here to pique your curiosity, and help you find a new path to explore and discover. I’ll never make another trip without paging through this first.


Quinta da Regaliera in Sintra, Portugal

Atlas Obscura:
An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders
by Joshua Foer, Dylan Thuras and Ella Morton

published September 20, 2016 by Workman Publishing Company

I received an advance copy courtesy of the publisher for review.

Amazon / Book Depository

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