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An Atlas of Extinct Countries: The Remarkable (and Occasionally Ridiculous) Stories of 48 Nations that Fell off the Map
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An Atlas of Extinct Countries: The Remarkable (and Occasionally Ridiculous) Stories of 48 Nations that Fell off the Map (Hardback)

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Prisoners of Geography meets Bill Bryson: a funny, fascinating, beautifully illustrated - and timely - history of countries that, for myriad and often ludicrous reasons, no longer exist.

'Countries are just daft stories we tell each other. They're all equally implausible once you get up close'

Countries die. Sometimes it's murder, sometimes it's by accident, and sometimes it's because they were so ludicrous they didn't deserve to exist in the first place. Occasionally they explode violently. A few slip away almost unnoticed. Often the cause of death is either 'got too greedy' or 'Napoleon turned up'. Now and then they just hold a referendum and vote themselves out of existence.

This is an atlas of nations that fell off the map. The polite way of writing an obituary is: dwell on the good bits, gloss over the embarrassing stuff. This book fails to do that. And that is mainly because most of these dead nations (and a lot of the ones that are still alive) are so weird or borderline nonsensical that it's impossible to skip the embarrassing stuff.

The life stories of the sadly deceased involve a catalogue of chancers, racists, racist chancers, conmen, madmen, people trying to get out of paying tax, mistakes, lies, stupid schemes and General Idiocy. Because of this - and because treating nation states with too much respect is the entire problem with pretty much everything - these accounts are not fussed about adding to all the earnest flag saluting in the world, however nice some of the flags are.

History & PoliticsHistory General & TheoryGeneral & world historyHistory & PoliticsHistory: specific events & topicsHistorical geographyHistorical maps & atlasesScience & MathematicsGeography Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication Date: 03/09/2020 ISBN-13: 9780008393854  Details: Type: Hardback Format: Books
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Gideon Defoe is the author of The Pirates! book series, and wrote the screenplay for the Oscar-nominated Aardman film The Pirates in an Adventure with Scientists. He has also written about how animals have sex and penned a computer game tie-in novel because he is bad at staying on brand.

More books by Gideon Defoe

Customer Reviews

This book is full of fascinating facts about countries (using a very wide definition of ‘country’) that no longer exist. A few you will have heard of – such as Yugoslavia and The German Democratic Republic – and many that have been justly consigned to a long-forgotten history. Some, such as Cospaia, were formed by cartographic accidents. Many were formed by mountebanks – exclusively male, predominantly white, European. “There’s a strangely consistent psychological profile that fits Guys Who Set Up Countries. Dead dad, raised by a doting mum, serially unfaithful, stint in the army or navy, writer or journalist, can’t be trusted with money, fantasist” Perhaps the weirdest one was the Ottawa Civic Hospital Maternity Ward which lasted only one day: “In 1940, Germany invaded the Netherlands, and the Dutch royal family went into exile … safety in the Canadian capital, Ottawa. While living there, (Princess Juliana) got pregnant with her third child. … the Dutch constitution was airtight on the issue – nobody could take their place in the line of succession if they were born on the soil of another country. … So, the Canadian government … passed a law … providing ‘an extra-territorial character to any place in which the heir presumptive to the throne of the Netherlands may be confined and in which an heir to such throne may be born’” While I am sure that the author has double-checked all of his facts, his opinions (and sarcasm) are a large part of the book. Most of the time the comments are amusing, and many chime with my own ideas – but over time they can become wearing. I did object to Ludwig II of Bavaria (whom I have a soft spot for, having studied in Bayreuth) and George III (one of Britain’s brightest and best kings ever, but sadly suffering from porphyria which affected his mind in later life) being labelled as mad. Other readers may have other objections, depending on their politics and social mores – be warned. The last section of the book (“Puppets and Political Football”) is overtly political, dealing with more recent (and better known) extinct countries. The author has obviously had some problems publishing the book in areas which consider some of his chapters contentious. Overall, this is a very interesting and enjoyable book – probably better read in short bursts rather than from cover to cover in one sitting. I received this copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

- 22/08/2020
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