An atlas of countries that don’t exist, with the additional title “a compendium of fifty unrecognized and largely unnoticed states” is nothing less than brilliant.
Naturally it is limited; the 232 pages can’t hold all knowledge there is about all “unknown” – or as it may be: little known – states, countries and nations that presently exist or has existed, in modern history. Middleton helpfully informs any reader who takes the time to read the introduction how he made his selection, including but not stopping at a discussion of the definition of a country. Or state. Or nation. And so, if you’re looking for your specific favourite largely unnoticed country it may well be that it is not presented in this relatively slim volume.
Also well be noted that this is not a scientific textbook. Each country gets two spreads – a title spread with a summary, and an information spread consisting of a one page map, plus one page of text.
The text is largely anecdotal – it starts with a person or an historical event, and goes on from there to sketch an outline of the most defining characteristics or events as regards the birth, rise, and sometimes fall, of the country at hand.
Each spread on it’s own may feel a bit thin, though elegantly displayed. But as in so many other cases the sum is greater than its parts: we see through this book the story of European colonisation, of Soviet, US, and Chinese imperialism, told from the perspective of the conquered and subsumed – the annihilated, neglected and exploited – spiced with Western libertarian delusions of grandeur, family owned colonies, and citizens of the world projects.
As such it is a starting point for further explorations into several dimensions: one can chose to explore the fate and histories of individual tribes and cultures, or one can chose to look at the macro-political level, the power structures, and the economic motivators, that formed the world as we know it today. Or one can look to what made a specific region or nation, and start to see beyond the mono-cultural and into the more complex situation.
Of course I think some countries could had been excluded. Of course I think other countries should had been included. And on a nit-picketty level I would had liked the maps to show national borders in those cases when an unknown nation is spread over several internationally recognised sovereign states.
I do not miss a bibliography. As stated before this is not a scientific text, and I appreciate that I am allowed to find my own sources when exploring deeper. At points it took me on a journey into formerly unknown territories, branching out into topics that I had no idea existed. And I am not particularly illiterate in the topics concerned: I just hadn’t gone deeper into each region, prior to this.
I definitely recommend this book. And when I say “book” I mean the actual paper version, the hard copy. This is not a book to be listened to, or to browse on a screen. The full experience demands the physical object. That way it is worth it’s money.
It was the perfect gift to myself, on a rainy January night!