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A Journey into Our Age of Islands


A Journey into Our Age of Islands

Explorer and geographer Alastair Bonnett takes us on a thought-provoking tour of the world’s most fascinating islands, featuring hand-drawn maps, color photos, and stories from his travels.

There are millions of islands on our planet. New islands are being built at an unprecedented rate, for tourism and territorial ambition. Many are also disappearing, besieged by rising sea levels. The story of our world’s islands is one of the great dramas of our time, and it is playing out around the planet—islands are sprouting or being submerged everywhere from the South China Sea to the Atlantic. Elsewhere is the story of this strange and mesmerizing planetary spectacle.
In this book, explorer and geographer Alastair Bonnett takes us on a thought-provoking tour of the world’s most fascinating islands. He traveled the globe to provide a firsthand look at numerous islands, sketching a vivid likeness of each one he visited. From a “crannog,” an ancient artificial island in a Scottish loch, to the militarized artificial islands China is building; from the disappearing islands that remain the home of native Central Americans to the ritzy new islands of Dubai; from Hong Kong to the Isles of Scilly—all have compelling stories to tell. As we journey around the world with Bonnett, he addresses urgent contemporary issues such as climate change, economic inequality, and the changing balance of world power as reflected in the fates of islands. Along the way, we also learn about the many ways islands rise and fall, the long and little-known history of human island-building and the prospect that the inland hills and valleys will one day be archipelagos.
Featuring Bonnett’s charming hand-drawn maps and 33 full-color photos, Elsewhere is a captivating travel book for any armchair adventurer.

272 pages | 33 color plates, 19 halftones | 5-1/4 x 8-1/4 | © 2020

Biological Sciences: Natural History

Geography: Cultural and Historical Geography, Environmental Geography

History: General History

Travel and Tourism: Travel Writing and Guides


"In a text that is part travel memoir and part social commentary, Bonnett presents examples from around the world to illustrate humanity’s long-held fascination and infatuation with islands. The cases highlighted depict how civilizations throughout history have used islands as a means of escape, as tools to isolate and hide undesirable persons or secrets, as foundations for realizing economic, military, or political opportunity, as venues to accommodate population growth, or as symbols of religious devotion and piety. In particular, he notes the extent to which people have taken to creating artificial islands where none exist, modifying natural islands deemed inadequate for the proposed uses, or using artificial islands accidentally created by other activities. . . . Attractively illustrated with color photograph plates and hand-drawn maps and compiled during a two-year trek around the globe, the text is engaging and accessible to general audiences."


“A fascinating and intelligent book. . . . Bonnett writes with an acerbic charm.”

The Sunday Times (UK)

"Bonnett has written a most readable and sympathetic account of the various guises islands can take around the world and rightly points out the ecological consequences of human building projects."

Literary Review

"A great primer on the concept of islands in the modern age. . . . Engagingly written".

Library Journal

"[A] beguiling, fact-filled account of the world’s headlong dash to build artificial islands. Via a mixture of extensive desk research and short field visits, Bonnett invites readers to journey with him from military-orientated 'Frankenstein Islands' in the South China Sea to gigantic windfarms anchored to the bottom of the North Sea."

Times Literary Supplement

"Elsewhere: A Journey into Our Age of Islands is captivating, a delightful armchair travelogue [ . . . ] A prolific writer of academic adventure geography, Bonnett yet again shares his rare gift of successfully crafting intriguing geographical works that interest academics and the public alike."

Journal of Geography

Elsewhere contributes to our understanding of the contemporary era of human civilization. Using the lens of islands—which have always provoked human attention and emotion—allows Bonnet to explore the psychology, politics, culture, and economics of the Anthropocene in a way that is both enjoyable and insightful.”


“In Elsewhere, Bonnett combines a deep knowledge of history and contemporary geopolitics with a seasoned travel writer’s eye for the telling detail, as he gives us a tour of our terrifying but often beautiful new world.”

Joshua Keating, author of Invisible Countries

“An ambitious journey by wing, sail, rubber and road to find the lost, emerging, off-limits and artificial islands of our fast-changing world. Once again, Bonnett respectfully drags geography back to its roots.”

Bradley Garrett, author of Bunker: Building for the End Times

“Bonnett’s reporting of islands new and ancient—from trash islands to military islands to new environment-trashing ‘ultrastar’ islands to approaching-extinction islands—is a well-researched and open-handed cautionary tale for our times.”

Dan Boothby, author of Island of Dreams: A Personal History of a Remarkable Place

“Sheer vulnerability and bold architecture live cheek by jowl in this book. If islands did not exist, we would have to invent them. And now we do. Elsewhere helps us understand how and why.”

Godfrey Baldacchino, University of Malta; president of the International Small Islands Studies Association

Table of Contents


Part One: Rising
Why We Build Islands
    Flevopolder, The Netherlands
    The World, Dubai
    Chek Lap Kok, Airport Island, Hong Kong
    Fiery Cross Reef, South China Sea
    Phoenix Island, China
    Ocean Reef, Panama
Natural, Overlooked and Accidental: Other New Islands
    Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha‘apai, Tonga
    The Accidental Islands of Pebble Lake, Hungary
    Trash Islands

Part Two: Disappearing
Disappearing Islands
    The San Blas Islands of Guna Yala, Panama
    Tongatapu and Fafa, Tonga
    The Isles of Scilly, UK

Part Three: Future
Future Islands
    Dogger Bank Power Link Island, North Sea
    East Lantau Metropolis, Hong Kong
Not an Ending


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