It’s that time of year when it seems as if every New Yorker is on their way O-U-T of the Big Apple to visit family and friends, which is exactly what I’ve done! As books (and reading!) are up there with travel as some of my favorite things, I thought it might be fun to post a few books about travel I hope are under the tree when I get home. These aren’t your typical “travel” books though–these books use stories and maps to tell compelling narratives about New York City and the world around it.
Much like the previous post about books, all reviews are from Amazon unless otherwise noted. Happy travels!
1. The New York Nobody Knows: Walking 6,000 Miles in the City, by William Helmreich
As a child growing up in Manhattan, William Helmreich played a game with his father called “Last Stop.” They would pick a subway line, ride it to its final destination, and explore the neighborhood. Decades later, his love for exploring the city is as strong as ever.
Putting his feet to the test, he decided that the only way to truly understand New York was to walk virtually every block of all five boroughs–an astonishing 6,000 miles. His journey took him to every corner of Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island. Helmreich spoke with hundreds of New Yorkers from every part of the globe and all walks of life. He finds that to be a New Yorker is to struggle to understand the place and to make a life that is as highly local as it is dynamically cosmopolitan.
Truly unforgettable, The New York Nobody Knows will forever change how you view the world’s greatest city.
2. Atlas of Improbable Places: A Journey to the World’s Most Unusual Corners, by Travis Elborough and Alan Horsfield
It is perhaps the eighth wonder of our world that despite modern mapping and satellite photography our planet continues to surprise us. Hidden lairs beneath layers of rock, forgotten cities rising out of deserted lands and even mankind’s own feats of engineering eccentricity lie in the most unusual of destinations.
Travis Elborough goes in search of the obscure and bizarre, the beautiful and estranged. Taking in the defiant relics of ancient cities such as Ani, a once thriving metropolis lost to conquered lands, and the church tower of San Juan Parangaricuto, that miraculously stands as the sole survivor of a town sunk by lava. Through the labyrinths of Berlin and Beijing – underground realms dug for refuge, espionage and even, as Canada’s Moose Jaw, used as the playground for gangsters trading liquor and money over cards. Never forgetting the freaks and wonders of nature’s own unusual masterpieces: the magical underground river shaped like a dragon’s mouth in the Philippines and the floating world of Palmerston.
With beautiful maps and stunning photography illustrating each destination, Atlas of Improbable Places is a fascinating voyage to the world’s most incredible destinations. As the Island of Dolls and the hauntingly titled Door to Hell – an inextinguishable fire pit – attest, mystery is never far away. The truths and myths behind their creation are as varied as the destinations themselves. Standing as symbols of worship, testaments to kingships or even the strange and wonderful traditions of old and new, these curious places are not just extraordinary sights but reflections on man’s own relationship with the world around us.
3. Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas, by Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro
Nonstop Metropolis, the culminating volume in a trilogy of atlases, conveys innumerable unbound experiences of New York City through twenty-six imaginative maps and informative essays. Bringing together the insights of dozens of experts—from linguists to music historians, ethnographers, urbanists, and environmental journalists—amplified by cartographers, artists, and photographers, it explores all five boroughs of New York City and parts of nearby New Jersey. We are invited to travel through Manhattan’s playgrounds, from polyglot Queens to many-faceted Brooklyn, and from the resilient Bronx to the mystical kung fu hip-hop mecca of Staten Island. The contributors to this exquisitely designed and gorgeously illustrated volume celebrate New York City’s unique vitality, its incubation of the avant-garde, and its literary history, but they also critique its racial and economic inequality, environmental impact, and erasure of its past. Nonstop Metropolis allows us to excavate New York’s buried layers, to scrutinize its political heft, and to discover the unexpected in one of the most iconic cities in the world. It is both a challenge and homage to how New Yorkers think of their city, and how the world sees this capital of capitalism, culture, immigration, and more.