Cover Image: An Atlas of Extinct Countries

An Atlas of Extinct Countries

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Member Reviews

2/10 stars 

My full review on my blog (link attached).

You know this habit some people have, reading in the toilet? I won’t discuss the lack of hygiene of this solution to the WC boredom, but I want to point out that some people even have special books filled with fun facts waiting in the toilet just for the right time. It can be a short or a long visit, and you’ll never fail to learn a thing or two (provided you take care to wash your hands, or else you’ll learn more than you’ve bargained for about E. coli). They cointain mostly useless but nevertheless briefly interesting bits of wisdom such as the name of the fear of clowns (coulrophobia, for those curious). These books are intentionally light, nonsensical and fluffy, and usually made on a surprisingly good paper. I suspect that they possibly have a second function, if the toilet paper suddenly runs out.

Defoe’s book is just like that.

Don’t get me wrong. It can be fun in small doses. But the incessant chattery and artificially snappy tone started grating on my nerves after a couple pages, and the sad thing is, it never stopped. I guess that’s a positive thing in your average toilet book – after all, you don’t want to spend too much time in the WC – but as I didn’t read it in the toilet… well, let’s say it took me inordinate amount of time, in small, carefully dosed increments, to read this.

At first I was even mildly amused. I mean, it’s a cool idea, to talk about the countries that once were, or never were, to tell the stories of how such a thing as country even emerges. But Defoe has a very clear agenda here, which is to not think, but deride, point fingers, and generally indulge in gossip, in order to shore up his thesis that

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


I’ll give him that: he wrote the whole book just for the purpose of proving his thesis. Talk about dedication. The problem is, though, that while I don’t completely disagree with this thesis, I also cannot endorse it. Implausibility of a country stems from a fact that it is a grand social make-believe experiment. It’s at once wondrous and appalling, and incredibly fascinating. But Defoe doesn’t see any of that – he only sees failed ideas and scams and get-rich-quick schemes. And blatant cherrypicking in order to say “I told you so” is the worst type of sin in what is supposed to be a non-fiction publication.

[...]

What can I say? If you’re really pressed in your toilet, you may make some use of this book. Otherwise, not recommended.

I have received a copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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This is a witty and congenial compendium of fascinating and entertaining historical and geopolitical facts and factoids. Regarding both tone and content, the author is a welcome and engaging companion.
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Do you enjoy trivia?  How about collecting minutia for the sake of knowing strange facts?  Or do you just have some time to fill?  If so you are in luck!  Gideon Defoe offers the reader "the remarkable (and occasionally ridiculous) stories of 48 nations that fell off the map."  Mind you, some were pushed.
After offering an explanation for writing this book, Gideon Defoe delves into the tales.  For each country he offers a name, date, population figure, capital, languages, currency, and cause of death along with a map of the country.  He divides the countries into Chancers & Crackpots (examples - The Islands of Refreshment, The Kingdom of Bavaria, and The State of Muskogee), Mistakes & Micronations (examples - The Republic of Cospaia, The Tangier International Zone, and The Soviet Republic of Soldiers & Fortress Builders of Naissaar), Lies & Lost Kingdoms (examples - The Great Republic of Rough & Ready, The Kingdom of Axum, and The Golden Kingdom of Silla), and Puppets & Political Footballs (examples - The Republic of Formosa, Ruthenia, and The Republic of West Florida - the original Lone Star State!).  He finishes the book with some information on flags, national anthems, and a select bibliography of sources.

An Atlas of Extinct Countries is a great browsing book.  You do not want to sit and read it all at once; you would get information overload.  Rather this is a book to dip into, read a country or two, finish your business and replace besides your other trivia books for the next time you need a break from your "serious" reading.  You will be entertained and may even learn a bit of history.
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Eh. If you take this as mostly a bit of fun and more entertainment than true educational material, it can be a good time. For me, it felt more like a jumping off point to go look up more detailed info, but if you're just looking for some fun (or not-so-fun) facts to dip into occasionally, you may enjoy this even more than I did.
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My type of humor combined with history about wild geopolitics equals a good time in my book. Definitely worth a read and a for sure recommendation.
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Princess Fuzzypants here:  If you are looking for an irreverent, funny and quirky read, check out this book.  The author has included in his book both the small and the larger countries who have been swallowed up by time, ineptitude or some other element- sometimes out of the control of the people involved.  Some of these countries existed for centuries.  When they did it might have been because they worked or it might have been the rest of the world forgot about them.  He has also included a couple that existed for days.  One last two days before it was defunct.  The reason: the citizens realized they could not get booze.

Told with tongue firmly implanted in cheek, with a ton of cheek, it is a fascinating look at some of the experiments attempted by individuals.  Some were the result of would-be megalomaniacs and some by people who thought something was a good idea at the time.  All of them are entertaining and a cautionary tale of being careful of that which you wish..

Fast and easy, it is a perfect summer read.  Five purrs and two paws up.
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An occasionally funny look at ill-fated attempts at independent statehood. The accounts often seemed maddeningly incomplete and overly simplistic, but they do serve as a great springboard to look these nations up yourself and for that, plus a few chuckles, I am grateful. Just don't go into it expecting actual history.
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An Atlas of Extinct Countries, by Gideon Defoe is a book best enjoyed with tempered expectations.  This is not a work that aims for in-depth exploration or explanation. It will not delve too deeply nor range very broadly. The entries, which describe 48 here-for-awhile countries, are brief, contain a number of anecdotes, and are offered up in a breezy, sarcastic (mostly funny) tone.  If you go in expecting depth and detail, you’ll be disappointed, frustrated, and annoyed.  On the other hand, if you see this a light, fun (despite more than few grim/horrific details) introduction to these places and come to it either wanting no more than that, or come to it as a stepping stone to learning more about these obsolete nations, then you’ll come away happily satisfied.

The tone is frequently snarky, and as frequently justifiably so, as when he recounts a letter written by James Brooke to his mother, telling her “I am really becoming a great man,” which Defoe describes as “displaying all the modest self-effacement that rich English Victorian white dudes are generally famous for.”   Defoe is often funny, though there are times where the tone and subject matter are a little too much at odds with each other (it’s hard to get a chuckle out of the horror that was the Belgian Congo, for instance).  Personally, I enjoyed Defoe’s sense of humor, though I do recommend reading the book in a few chunks rather than straight through, as the tone might grate a bit as a continuous stream.  

As noted, the entries themselves are quite short, with nearly 50 places covered in roughly 300 pages (which include introduction, appendix, etc.).  Defoe divides the countries into several categories, such as “Chancers and Crackpots”, “Mistakes and Micronations”, and “Lies and Lost Kingdoms.”  He does give the parameters of how he defined an extinct country but follows that up by telling us “I’ve then immediately forgotten those rules by considering . . . “and then offers up a brief list of entries that ignore his definition. 

Each entry begins with the country’s name, the years (months, weeks, hours) it was in existence, its population, its capital (or capitals—one had five), its languages, its currency, and then a (often tongue-in-cheek) “cause of death” (“it’s not always Napoleon”), and what country the region is part of today.  Some of the nations will be familiar to just about anyone, such as Yugoslavia, Easter Island, Venice. Others may be familiar to a widely read audience (in literature and/or history/politics), such as The Congo Free State, Bophuthatswana, The Tangier International Zone.  But most I’m guessing will be new to the reader, and nearly all offer up a fascinating tidbit of human history (with all its accordant greed, narcissism, hucksterism, etc.) 

In the end, it’s an enjoyable, lightly informative read. I didn’t highlight many notes at all, but I did make notes of more than a few places I want to further research. And that’s enough for me.  Recommended with all the caveats mentioned in the intro.
3.5
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I was pleasantly surprised with this hilarious book of short histories of mostly blink-and-you'll-miss-it nation states throughout history - funny, informative, easy to read, thoroughly enjoyable.
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Yes, all the countries in the Atlas of Extinct Countries really did exist!  You will laugh, pause, and wonder at some of the almost unbelievable entries .  Really? You'll ask yourself.  What were they thinking.  This is a book to pick up, read a few chapters, put it down, and then return to it when you have some extra time.  I am thoroughly enjoying it.
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This had such an interesting premise, but it really did not deliver for me. I’ve seen some other reviews describe this as intentionally satirical, but I did not get that while reading or from the synopsis in the least. I thought we’d have fleshed out chapters diving into snapshots of history and glances at the cultures that built and destroyed these former countries. Instead, it all just felt too choppy, too sparse, and not nearly serious enough. 

I did enjoy the illustrated maps and I really didn’t mind the bits of humor put into the intros for each country. However, I felt like the attempts at being funny horrendously overshadowed being educational, accurate, respectful of these cultures or this history. I say attempts at being funny because it wasn’t even funny to me! Maybe if I had been rolling with laughter I could forgive this and say, “Ah, I expected something else, but I see what he did here.” Instead, this just felt lazy. I couldn’t understand why Gideon Defoe picked this specific topic to write an entire book about as he didn’t seem interested in it in the least. It felt like a class presentation that a student did research on in one day, and then tried to make up for the lack of material with jokes and fancy slide transitions. 

I am sorry to write such a short review, but I really don’t have much to say about this besides it was really disappointing. I’m giving it two stars for the premise and illustrations alone. I think this had potential to be a really interesting book, but I couldn’t be convinced to care about it any more than Defoe seemed to. It was hard not to DNF this one. 

Thank you NetGalley and Europe Compass for an e-arc.
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A fun and entertaining little book about countries that appeared – and then disappeared. 48 nations that fell off the map, as the title tells us. Just brief snippets about each one. Not to be taken too seriously – as some reviewers have indeed taken it, saying it lacks depth: which admittedly it does – but then that was never the aim. I found the jokey style amusing and a welcome bit of light relief. Quirky, witty and the perfect gift for anyone who loves trivia.
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I think probably the best way to take this book is as a guidebook to what you might want to start looking into if you’re interested in countries which no longer exist - and a warning to take anything you read about them with a grain of salt, because history is inevitably written by the victors, and every one of these countries was, in the grand scheme of things, definitely on the losing side. Some of the countries featured you’ll probably have heard of - Yugoslavia, the German Democratic Republic - and others sound too ludicrous to ever have existed, such as Cospaia or the Free State of Bottleneck. 

The author’s writing style is irreverent and funny, and I found myself laughing multiple times throughout the book. He seems to be going for what I’d call the Bill Bryson audience, people who like their factoids pithy and humorous - it’s definitely not aimed at kids, who I’m pretty sure wouldn’t get things like references to Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

It’s also not for anyone who takes themselves too seriously or happens to support conservative ideas - the author pokes fun at Trumpism among many other targets - and if white guys with delusions of grandeur absolutely stuffing up indigenous people and their land for generations hits a bit too close to home, you might want to give this one a miss too. 

I’d say this is the perfect book to dip in and out of, with the sections being short as they are and the entries capable of being read in any order. Keep it in your bathroom and you may find your guests laughing uproariously when they come out!
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This book feels like the perfect Fathers' Day gift! Gideon DeFoe is hilarious, and his tales of entitled "Posh White Guys" with delusions of grandeur will make you laugh out loud. These case studies successfully prove his belief that " treating nation states with too much respect is the entire problem with pretty much everything".
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This is a nice little bit of schadenfreude and sugar to make a bitter pill go down nice and easy. Don't get me wrong - it's a delightful book, one of those ones where I laughed out loud and then had to read passages to my partner that he deeply did not care about but I still read to him anyway. The comedic timing and the narrative style is absolutely spot on. 

But man is colonialism awful. In the tradition of <i>The Great Big Book of Horrible Things</i>, <i>An Atlas of Extinct Countries</i> will make you laugh even as it makes you very very angry about all the horrible things people have done to each other in the name of money, or nationalism, or just because they could. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll quite possibly start a rebellion. Just don't... you know... found your own nation. It doesn't seem to end well for anyone.
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This is a fun book full of trivia for anyone interested in geography 
I would have liked a little more in-depth exploration, but the tidbit-sized chapters and breezy writing are entertaining
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Whether the extinct country was actually a country or not (!) Gideon Defoe uses wit, humour and illustrations to describe several in this chuckle-worthy book.  Even the introduction and acknowledgement are fun.  Several are commonly known (Kingdom of Bavaria and pouffy hair lover eccentric King Ludwig II who nearly bankrupted his country but is endlessly fascinating  nonetheless) and others such as The Islands of Refreshment and The Fiume Endeavour not so much.  The author tidily summarizes information such as population, language, currency, cause of death and what the ex country is (part of) today.

Some of the stories make me wonder whether the founders felt just a little silly "organizing" a country at whim without forethought.  A few had realistic intentions but others were doomed to fail in minutes.  Either way, the stories are riveting and the reader can't help but to admire the founders' tenacity and courage (lunacy?).  Read about the country's name you don't want to have to address on envelopes.  Neutral Moresnet seems more legitimate with its zinc mine which is now part of Belgium (lucky you!).  Then there's the embarrassing attack on a group not their enemy and another, a revivalist of sorts, which in 1994 gave visitors vouchers for a dinner and wine.  A few founders were scammers, too.  One country is named after number 44 in the periodic table.  

But wait...there's more!  You will also read about country flags.  One of my favourite witty bits is the Acknowledgements.

Who isn't interested in countries which were and were not with facts, statistics and presumptions?  It has appeal for both Fiction and Non Fiction readers.

My sincere thank you to Europa Editions and NetGalley for the privilege of reading this amusing book!  The author's way with words makes the information more memorable.
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This was an entertaining read about the,  frequently short, lives of extinct countries. I enjoyed learning more about these countries through history and the circumstances that lead to their creation and downfall.
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I received an ARC of this book by the publisher via Netgalley in an exchange for an honest review. 

An Atlas of Extinct Countries is an interesting beast. I went into this microhistory non-fiction expecting in-depth analysis into failed civilizations such as Carthage and the USSR. Instead I got short summaries into white male colonialism delusions, lost causes, and political puppet states. These summaries are written in that trademark British dry humor that literally made me laugh out loud. As Defoe states, "There is a strong argument to be made that a full 90 percent of the the reason people start countries in the first place is because they want an excuse to get into flag design."

In the beginning Defoe starts with unheard of countries such as The Great Republic of Rough & Ready, The Islands of Refreshments, and The Soviet Repuic of Soldiers & Fortress-Builders of Naissaar (to name a few). He then moves onto nations such as the Serene Republic of Venice, the Republic of Texas (which as a native Texan I had to take an entire year of history learning about at the age of 12), The Congo Free State (an oxymoron), and Yugoslavia; each of which I've studied since they're historically relevant (no offense to the Republic of Rough &.Ready). 

Some of the stories are funny, some are depressing, and some show how international superpowers really don't care about technicalities. This is one of those books that fill you with generally useless facts that might win you a lot of money on Jeopardy or more likely in your local game of pub trivia. The historically relevant nations it covers aren't explored in enough detail to give you more than the general idea of what happened and the rest are either cautionary tales or funny historical anecdotes. 

Overall, I'm a sucker when it comes to both British humor and useless facts so An Atlas of Extinct Countries hit both targets. But be warned, if you're looking for serious analysis this is not the book for you. Overall I give this book 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it for microhistory fans that enjoy their trivia facts with a side of snark.
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My favorite section was the last one, with countries of real import. I wish the info on those countries had been more in depth. This book is funny and informative.
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