Atlas of Remote Islands

Judith Schalansky

Subtitled “Fifty Islands I Have Never Set Foot On and Never Will,” this atlas will usually be shelved in the travel section, but it’s really an art book. Though since Schalansky declares in her preface, “It is high time for cartography to take its place among the arts, and for the atlas to be recognized as literature,” she would reshelve more than just her own book. She wrote, illustrated, and designed everything, and the entries are more lyrical than comprehensive. Her description of Macquarie Island begins:

This craggy piece of land, where it rains all year round, has never been part of a land mass, but comes directly from the sea. It is a piece of the earth’s crust from the bottom of the ocean that just happened to shoot up above sea level, a vertebra of an undersea spine that rises above the water. Here, halfway to Antarctica, where the warm water of the north meets the cold water of the south, the sea is always stormy, and every landing is dangerous.

It then continues with a story from 1840 when the crew of the Peacock managed to land but found it “offer[ed] no inducement for a visit.” Yet one crew member went on land and immediately found himself lost in a sea of penguins. Some islands receive even sparer focus.

A charming and beautiful book. There is an equally lovely pocket version.