Book review

Atlas Obscura: The Second Edition: Don’t leave home without it

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It’s never a bad time to take a vacation.

You never want a bad destination, though; no places that are disagreeably seasonal. No locales that are too people-y, too remote, too kiddish, or too 1950s. It’s never a bad time to take a vacation but there are better places to visit than the same-old, same-old, so grab “Atlas Obscura: The Second Edition” by Joshua Foer, Dylan Thuras and Ella Morton, and get packing.

In 2020, you’re gonna cross a few things off your bucket list.

You’re going to travel, see the world, meet new people – or at least you’ll read about them, anyhow, which is where this book comes in. Starting with the British Isles and moving about, “Atlas Obscura” offers unique and hidden places to visit and things you won’t normally see. It’ll make your wanderlust, lust.

If you’re heading for London, for example, stop and see Jeremy Bentham’s headless body. Being mummified was what Bentham wanted when he died but alas, his noggin was stolen too many times by mischief-makers, and it’s under lock and key.

Collectors will understand the Hill of Crosses in Lithuania, where more than 100,000 crucifix and cross statues stand. “Atlas Obscura” says that the Soviets tried to do away with this field of Christian symbols by bulldozing it thrice, but it was rebuilt each time. Conversely, if you’re in La Paz, Bolivia, look for the Witches’ Market, or the Devil’s Swimming Pool in Zambia.

Visit a tannery in Morocco (but be prepared: urine and fecal matter are prime ingredients there). See a cave in Guam that was home to “holdouts” from World War II for nearly 30 years. Spend a night in a hanging sphere on Vancouver Island.

Or maybe you’d rather stick closer to home: Visit the Museum of Death in Hollywood. See the world’s largest organism in Utah; tour a paper house in New England. Visit Spirit Houses in Alaska, hike inside a mountain in South Dakota to see a waterfall, and gaze upon the Loretto Chapel Stairs in New Mexico.

Are you packed yet?

For sure, a few dozen words don’t do “Atlas Obscura: The Second Edition” justice. Revised, updated, with new information and more destinations to see, this is the kind of book you really need to put in your hands to fully appreciate.

In a way, it does double-service.

For anyone with means and a way, it’s like throwing a dart at a map to determine your next vacation site, only in book form. Authors Foer, Thuras, and Morton offer up the kind of locales that you’ve either never heard of, or just don’t think about – and they make these places easy to visit by including travel information as well as phone numbers, fax numbers, and other tips for a good visit.

For the reader who’s not going anywhere for now, well, you will – in your mind – with “Atlas Obscura: The Second Edition.” It’s browse-able fun. It’s useful and interesting, full-color, wide-scoped, and if you’re tossing things in a suitcase, leave room. Pack this.

“Atlas Obscura: The Second Edition” by Joshua Foer, Dylan Thuras and Ella Morton; c.2019; Workman; $37.50 / $55.00 Canada; 472 pages.

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