“An Atlas of Countries That Don’t Exist: A Compendium of Fifty Unrecognized and Largely Unnoticed States” by Nick Middleton; Chronicle Books (232 pages, $29.95)
Don’t be fooled by the title of this engrossing, delightfully presented book. You’ll not find Middle-earth, Atlantis or Lilliput inside, but you will find something just as intriguing – real places that are quite noteworthy in the minds and hearts of their nonfictional inhabitants but which are “unrecognized and largely unnoticed states whose claims to legitimacy are made invisible” by their clearly defined, “official” neighbors.
You’ll know some of them, such as autonomy-seekers Taiwan, Tibet, Somaliland, Catalonia and Greenland. Some may ring a faint bell: Abkhazia, supported by Russia, or the Isle of Man, a “self-governing dependency of the British crown” that manages to be not a part of the U.K. Some are surprising, such as the self-governing commune Christiana in Denmark (can a commune secede from a city? Apparently), and Forvik, a North Sea island kingdom “established” by an accident-prone English yachtsman in 2011. It’s still part of the Norse empire, he insists; the United Kingdom must give it back. As of the book’s publishing, the U.K. has not answered.
Each country is its own chapter, with a page or less of history and commentary, a map and a flag, and vital statistics. (One, Ruthenia, has the honor of being a place for one day; it was declared a country on March 15, 1939, and dissolved on March 16.) Along with the attractive format and the short but informative entries, the jacketless textured gray cover with a dramatic cutout makes “Atlas” a handsome addition to a shelf of geography or political histories.
Anyone who keeps such shelves would do well to give this atlas a go, and it’s sure to prompt discussions about what makes a country a “real country.”