The Atlas Obscura: A delightful foray into the world’s weirdest wonders


Cushing Brain Collection, New Haven. (techbint/Flickr Creative Commons)

Cushing Brain Collection, New Haven. (techbint/Flickr Creative Commons)

Vacations seem to have become overwhelmingly banal in the past couple of decades. Everyone goes to the same beaches and campsites. Disneyland, while enchanting, sometimes feels like a neverending parade past gift shops eager to capitalize on your loose funds. Even a trip to the Leaning Tower of Pisa will have approximately 90 tourists all doing the same stunt of “Oh look I’m leaning on the tower, ha ha, I’m so funny and creative!”

You could argue that all the good vacation spots are overrun and there’s nothing new to explore.

However, you should give the planet earth some credit. The world is weirder than you think.

The “Atlas Obscura,” a self-defined “guide to the world’s weirdest wonders” was published earlier this fall in September, as a printed extension of the website The site was originally founded in 2009 by science journalist Joshua Foer and traveler Dylan Thuras. A collaborative effort, users from around the world can edit and add the oddities they’ve visited or that they live near. The book was written by Foer and Thuras, with additional help from visual artist Ella Morton.

Far from the typical travel brochure, the “Atlas Obscura” points visitors to roads less traveled– from the Giant Lenin Head of Ulan-Ude in eastern Europe, to the world’s oldest operating solar system model, to New Haven’s very own Cushing Brain Collection (because nothing completes a trip to Yale without seeing an array of diseased, century-old brains floating in jars of formaldehyde).

While the printed book isn’t nearly as extensive as the online site, featuring only a fraction of the numerous destinations that are constantly uploaded by members, it still displays them in an easy-to-locate fashion. The sites in the book are listed by location and region, from Europe to Africa even to Antarctica, divided into subsections for specific countries, states and towns. Each site has a short description, an image and the exact coordinates of the location, along with some quick directions or tips to find the area. One entry for an abandoned insane asylum on an island in Italy even recommends bribing a boater to get there discreetly.

In addition, charts, maps and lists are scattered throughout the book, including a list of medical museums around the world and a full-page spread of “Australia’s Big Things.” Entries of widespread areas, such as the Tunguska event site, spanning over 770 square miles of forest, have charts or additional maps detailing the impact or path of the area.

The entries are written in a snarky, accessible manner – far from the dusty old atlases you may have been forced to consult in elementary school. The dry wit and quirky selection of areas will have your interest peaked throughout the book. All the entries are in full color, adding an extra pop and beauty to the book’s design.

Though the entries are categorized, you can’t help but either read it all the way through to find the weirdest wonders of the world, or skip ahead to your hometown to see what’s near you. I have gone to see the Taft Chair in New Haven, and it is just as ridiculously wide as the book describes.

In conclusion, this book is excellent for any jaded tourist. Whether you’re planning a study-abroad trip or a staycation, you’ll be sure to find something strange and awesome near you within these pages. I give it 5 out of 5 hagfish.

Marlese Lessing is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at She tweets @marlese_lessing.

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