Geographic reference guides of the ‘weird and wonderful’ variety aren’t in short supply. From the Pocket Atlas of Remote Islands to the Atlas of Improbable Places and Atlas Obscura, authors and readers alike clearly share a fascination for the lesser-known spots that grace our planet. The Atlas of Unusual Borders fits this mould nicely, while still offering something new through its focus on borders and all their idiosyncrasies.
Nikolic, an IT engineer turned map enthusiast, starts his atlas with a focus on enclaves and exclaves (some of which, such as Llivia – the Catalan town ensconced within France – or the divided town of Baarle, Geographical readers may remember from April’s feature on these unusual states-within-a-state). Each geographical anomaly is depicted via a simple yellow and blue map. Potted histories alongside neatly sum up the various wars, conquests and peace treaties that have resulted in their creation, be it one-off disputes, royal promises or cataclysmic events such as the breakup of the USSR – which left Russian enclaves dotted throughout former territories and general geographic chaos in Central Asia.
From here, Nikolic moves on to a more miscellaneous selection of intriguing borders such as the ones surrounding artificial islands, ones that split towns down the middle or ones defined by a barren no-man’s-land. He also throws in a few particularly odd spots for good measure – culminating with Mount Athos, the ‘only territory in the world with an all-male population’.
Luckily, borders are a ripe topic historically speaking and Nikolic has taken full advantage of this, seeking out numerous stories of alliances, divisions and geopolitical ruptures. If there isn’t any obvious logic to the structure – the book is arranged thematically rather than alphabetically or geographically – it’s only mildly frustrating. As the author accepts in his introduction, this is a book to pick-up, put-down and skim through at leisure.