The Phantom Atlas: The Greatest Myths, Lies and Blunders on Maps

I have always loved poring over atlases and maps, and The Phantom Atlas: The Greatest Myths, Lies and Blunders on Maps by Edward Brooke-Hitching was different from all others in that the places depicted in it never existed. It was a pleasure to look over all the ancient maps to see the places–especially the islands–that fooled explorers and cartographers, sometimes for centuries. The maps, densely illustrated with both geographic features as well as the mythical monsters supposedly dwelling within, were not easy to read or look at without a magnifying glass, and I read the entire 256-page book with one. The size of font and especially the page numbers were illegible without magnification. I did like the thick quality of paper as it gave my fingers the feeling of handling genuine old maps.

Several of the phantom places or cartographic blunders I had heard of, such as Sandy Island in the Coral Sea, the “island” of California and the African Mountains of Kong. It was funny to read about the lies, which were often imaginary places that ambitious explorers claim to have discovered–and subsequently named after their generous benefactors–to ensure future sponsorship. Brooke-Hitching explained how natural phenomena, such as clouds and icy waters can create illusions or mirages, which were responsible for many of these sightings.

In the chapter about Atlantis, the author included this revealing quote:

“In Reflections of a Marine Venus (1953), Lawrence Durrell writes about discovering a list of diseases as yet unclassified by medical science, ‘and among these there occurred the word islomania, which was described as a rare but by no means unknown affliction of spirit. There are people…who find islands somehow irresistible. The mere knowledge that they are on an island, a little world surrounded by the sea, fills them with an indescribable intoxication. These born “islomanes”…are direct descendants of the Atlanteans.'”

So my frequent vacations to islands (Åland, Ile de Batz, Bornholm, Christiansø, the Faroes, Grímsey, Iceland, McNabs, Nightingale, Pelee, Tristan da Cunha, Vardø, Vestmannaeyjar and the Isle of Man) can only mean that my DNA is Atlantean.

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