I do like a book on geography, and I also like an amusing book. I think some of this book’s good qualities might have been diluted by the massive pain that was using the NetGalley Shelf App for the first time …

Gideon Defoe – “An Atlas of Extinct Countries”

(11 August 2020 – NetGalley)

I was attracted to this book by the maps on the front cover and the fact it’s about countries that no longer exist.

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

It was OK, it was very light, and there were a few selected facts on each country. One thing I can’t fault the author on is his insistence on pointing out the white, patriarchal, colonial and mendacious identity of most of the people who founded these countries – and when it’s not an individual, it’s a scribbling of lines by post-war administrators. Some countries were formed by their inhabitants as a protest against or escape from larger ones but the majority are from the former category and this is one bit of repetition that is welcome.

Some reviewers have mentioned this is one to dip into rather than read right through and they may be right, as I found the very short chapters and the darting around the world and history a bit bewildering reading through it. There are chapter headings on political creations, etc. (East Germany and the horrendous fake countries South Africa created within itself, etc.) but within each chapter we jump around in time and place and I couldn’t make out how it was ordered. There are sections on flags and national anthems at the back which offer more amusement. There are references occasionally in footnotes (not organised in the same way) and a comprehensive bibliography: some reviewers have mentioned inaccuracies, but I am not expert enough to spot these.

The maps of each country were nicely done, with little pictorial details, but many were in too large a scale to really get the context of where they were. I can see looking at the book website listings that they come out beautifully in the print edition of the book.

An OK read that could bring someone in to studying more closely histories of colonialism or various continents.

One for Bookish Beck’s synchronicities: I rarely read two books in a row featuring Ghengis Khan!

Thank you to 4th Estate for making this available to me via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

A word on the reading experience: while the loss of the detail of the maps wasn’t too bad, having to read this on the new NetGalley Shelf app was a pain. The publisher didn’t make it available for sending to Kindle (and I slightly panicked that I was going to have to read all my NG books like this, but no, all the subsequent wins have been available for Kindle, phew!) but you never seem to realise this until you’ve been accepted for the book. Knowing how irritating the previous Adobe Digital Editions was, I feared the worst. I got the app downloaded on my tablet OK and once logged in all my books were there. So far so good.

The reading experience is not fun, though. Even though the user guide that suddenly appeared did have flip pages, I could only read this book by endlessly scrolling down, which is annoying in itself – I like reading a book like a book, sorry! Then there was no facility like you have in Kindle or even ADE to mark a certain portion of text to return to when you’re reviewing. You could only bookmark a whole page by tapping on the bottom of the screen (this was also the only way you could see your progress through the book, which I found disconcerting) then hope you remembered what interested you on that page when you returned to it (I read this book over two days and had forgotten some when I sat down to write my review). When you wanted to look at the bookmarks, you had to tap at the bottom again and go to “Table of Contents” (of course! Thank  you user guide or I’d never have found them) and there was a tab with the bookmarks, but no text, just position. This did detract from my reading experience – not sure if anyone else has tried the app for reading books yet, but I will be sticking with my Kindle for the time being, for sure!