As of this year, the UN recognizes 195 countries around the world today. Countries come, countries go. An Atlas of Extinct Countries by Gideon Defoe explores with wit and sarcasm countries that faded into obscurity.
Prisoners of Geography meets Bill Bryson: a funny, fascinating, beautifully illustrated—and timely—history of countries that, for myriad and often ludicrous reasons, no longer exist.
“Countries are just daft stories we tell each other. They’re all equally implausible once you get up close.”
Countries die. Sometimes it’s murder, sometimes it’s by accident, and sometimes it’s because they were so ludicrous they didn’t deserve to exist in the first place. Occasionally they explode violently. A few slip away almost unnoticed. Often the cause of death is either “got too greedy” or “Napoleon turned up.” Now and then they just hold a referendum and vote themselves out of existence.
This is an atlas of 48 nations that fell off the map. The polite way of writing an obituary is: dwell on the good bits, gloss over the embarrassing stuff. This book refuses to do so because these dead nations are so full of schemers, racists, and con men that it’s impossible to skip the embarrassing stuff.
Because of this – and because treating nation-states with too much reverence is the entire problem with pretty much everything – these accounts are not concerned with adding to the earnest flag saluting in the world, however nice some of the flags might be.
Gideon Defoe is the author of The Pirates! book series and wrote the screenplay for the Oscar nominated Aardman film The Pirates in an Adventure with Scientists. He has written about how animals have sex and penned a computer game tie-in novel for Gollancz. He does film development work with Locksmith Animation and Studio Canal, and is developing a sitcom with BBC studios.
Fun fact: Michael Ondaatje, the famous author of “The English Patient,” is from Ceylon – a country that no longer exists.