Alastair Bonnett


On his book Beyond the Map: Unruly Enclaves, Ghostly Places, Emerging Lands and Our Search for New Utopias

Cover Interview of February 20, 2019

In a nutshell

In Beyond the Map I explore our curious but intense relationship to place by telling the story of thirty-nine extraordinary places. It’s a geographical roller coaster. But it’s not just a thrill ride. Beyond the Map takes us to new islands that are rising in the Arctic; a ‘Garbage City’ in Cairo; a guerrilla garden in England; and remnants of a utopian undersea village. Each of the thirty-nine chapters offers a unique and surprising story and, I hope, pushes us to think about why place matters, and why we still pour our hope and dreams into it.

It is often said that the planet is becoming ever more the same: that unique places are disappearing and that there is nowhere new left to explore. Beyond the Map turns all that on its head and shows that the world is riddled with strange, hidden places; some are remote and exotic, but others are just around the corner or under our feet.

There is a new mood in the air: a rising rebellion against blandness and sameness, and it has been a long time coming. You don’t have to walk far into our coagulated roadscape to realise that, over the past hundred years or so, we have been much better at destroying places than creating them. I see that every day in my home city, Newcastle, in England’s far north, which has been pulled apart and rebuilt so many times that its now hard to recognise. The resulting landscape feels impermanent; temporarily bolted into view. To illustrate that point, one of the chapters takes us to the bizarre and dilapidated ‘skywalks’ that some hare-brained local planner carelessly strung across Newcastle city centre in the 1970s. So many of us have to pick our way through something similar; the soon-to-be-debris; broken layers of other people’s grand and not so grand plans.

So that’s Beyond the Map. It is a travel book with a difference. It takes us to deeply unusual destinations – it even includes a chapter on a noisy traffic island – in order to think about what place means to us.