The Atlas of Remote Islands

A lot of books cross freelance writer Jenna Schnuer’s desk. One new title became an instant addition to her having-a-meh-day-and-need-a-pick-up pile. Click through to see how you can get a copy of your own. UPDATE: The winners have been selected and you can see them here.

Photo: Atlas of Remote Islands CoverThe first five times (or so) that I paged through the Atlas of Remote Islands: Fifty Islands I Have Never Set Foot On and Never Will, I fell deeply in love with the book. But I also didn’t see it for what it really is. The problem wasn’t that of the early stages of romance between people: I wasn’t blinded to the book’s faults but, instead, I underestimated the extent of its charms. Though the elegantly-lettered first words of the preface caught my eye, “Paradise is an island. So is hell,” I skipped over the text and went straight to the maps.

Each of author and artist Judith Schalansky’s maps–hand-drawn in shades of gray, black, white, and brilliant orange on cadet blue paper–transported me to a, usually, remote island. Filling each page, she makes the small places important, blithely ignoring the expansive land masses that most of us dream of when planning trips.

When I finally settled my eyes on the tales and histories and stories Schalansky offers up with each map, I realized my mistake. Now corrected. Translated from the original German, Schalansky is as much a writer as she is an artist and cartographer. I’ll return to her words time and again.

Here, a taste of the text:

“The absurdity of reality is lost on the large land masses, but here on the islands, it is writ large. An island offers a stage: everything that happens on it is practically forced to turn into a story, into a chamber piece in the middle of nowhere, into the stuff of literature. What is unique about these tales is that fact and fiction can no longer be separated: fact is fictionalized and fiction is turned into fact.”

I hate the thought of just blindly accepting that I’ll never see a place myself but I’m also a realist. Though I refuse to say I’ll never set foot on any of the 50, there’s a good chance my life will end without visits to Russia’s Lonely Island; to Taongi, “the northernmost and driest atoll of the Marshall Islands, 3,750 kilometres west of Hawaii”; or to the Disappointment Islands, named by Magellan and his starving men when the land offered them nothing after fifty starving days at sea. But, between Schalansky’s words and her art, they’re now a part of my (interior) travel life.

Photo: Pukapuka map

The Island of Pukapuka, located in the Pacific Ocean 435 miles from Samoa.

Photo: Diego Garcia mapDiego Garcia Island, located in the Indian Ocean 485 miles from the Maldives.

Schalansky’s book was recently awarded a prize for Germany’s most beautiful book, and since we know you want to see its artistry for yourself, we’re giving away two copies to the commenters who can tell us the remote island that most intrigues them and why. Commenting will end at noon EST tomorrow, October 7th.

[Atlas of Remote Islands: Fifty Islands I Have Never Set Foot On and Never Will]

Freelance writer Jenna Schnuer’s last piece for Intelligent Travel was about Maker Faire. She also explored her inner art map geek in a piece about artist Connie Brown. Read more of Jenna’s work at


  1. […] much has been made, in other reviews (all which are good reads: The Guardian, National Geographic, The Spectator, and Literary Review) of the aspects of this book that I have discussed above. Less […]

  2. […] Au sujet de sa perspective sur les îles, dans ses propres mots, rapportés par National Geographic: […]

  3. […] The Atlas of Remote Islands […]

  4. laurie robertson
    December 8, 2011, 5:59 am

    Does anyone know about the Cocos Keeling Islands


  5. Mark Savage
    October 12, 2010, 12:06 pm

    I have fallen in love with this book, too, and would like to make haste also to St. Kilda. There is an interesting short film about the island in the British film archives (it is on-line).
    I have been obsessed with Bouvet for years, and have seen one or two spectacular shots of it taken when it wasn’t encrusted with ice.
    Bear Island reads like a must-do destination also, as does Socorro Island.
    Judith Schalansky’s prose possesses a sense of wonder and irony that is so infectious.
    I was back in the milieu of Ballantyne’s ‘The Coral Island’ as I read slowly through this book (I ate it more than read it).

  6. Curious
    October 9, 2010, 6:26 pm

    Who won the two books?

  7. Morag McDonald
    October 7, 2010, 12:32 pm

    Posted on fb feed 6OCT10: “Reading all the posts reminded me of one place I’ve always wanted to visit… St Kilda… the remotest part of the British Isles, some 40 odd miles west of the Outer Hebrides in the wild North Atlantic. I’d love to walk through the village …abandoned in 1930 when the residents requested evacuation by the government as life just got too hard. Some of the photos are heartbreaking. It has a combination of harsh natural beauty and an unique cultural history that exists nowhere else in the North Atlantic and that is what makes it so intriguing. Would like to join a National Trust island archaeology tour one day…”

  8. Shannon
    October 7, 2010, 1:36 am

    It’s by no means the most remote, but Madagascar is pretty darn far from where I live! It’s an amazing bio-diverse ecosystem with a remarkable amount of culture and history as well. It’s sometimes called the 8th continent because so much of what it has is unique to the island.

  9. Liz Lewis
    October 7, 2010, 12:56 am

    Tristan da Cunha Island in the South Atlantic Ocean. It is named after a Portuguese explorer who first sighted this small volanic island in 1506 but the first permanent settler, a one Jonathan Lambert who arrived in 1810, declared ownership and promptly tried to re-name them the Islands of Refreshment.
    With an interesting history, rare wildlife, fun place names, and a remote location, it sounds like just the place to get away from the maddening crowds. Of course, it might take a some planning to get there.

  10. Don
    October 6, 2010, 8:16 pm

    Shemya Island, Alaska
    Shemya is near the very end of the Aleutian Island chain approximately 1500 miles from Anchorage, Alaska. It was once a U. S. Air Force base but has been closed down since the end of the Cold War. Shemya was known to servicemen and civilians as “The Rock”. It could feel a little like doing time at Alcatraz because once you were there, the weather could very well keep you there much longer than you had intended. For most people, this island definitely qualifies as an island “I have never set foot on and never will.” It is a place I will never forget.

  11. Josh
    October 6, 2010, 8:00 pm

    My attention is drawn to islands that are obscure and unexpected: the islands of Siwa Oasis in the Egyptian Sahara, for instance. I would love to explore the islands of Tibet, which sit in lakes as high as 17,000 feet and are truly difficult to reach. Some have ruins or monasteries; one is the size of Manhattan but I’ve never managed to find any information on it. (As for remote islands I’ve actually been to, I have fond memories of camping on an island in a lake on Glover Island in Grand Lake on the island of Newfoundland — a triply-nested island.)

  12. Heath
    October 6, 2010, 4:58 pm

    The Pitcairn Islands are of interest to me: something recently reconfirmed by repeat viewings of the several “Mutiny on the Bounty” films (Pitcairn is where Fletcher Christian settled after the mutiny).

  13. Caity
    October 6, 2010, 4:35 pm

    Just recently I became very intrigued by the islands of Palau. They way they were formed so suddenly by the earthquakes in the area causing the reefs to rise up, in some cases hundreds of feet above the sea level, is quite insane to think about. I am also fascinated by the jellyfish that live in the lakes and I love how they’re able to thrive so well with so few predators going after them. I think it’s beautiful, actually, how they can thrive and it makes me wonder just how much better life would be if all of the unnecessary killing was done with for good.

  14. Anna Luiza
    October 6, 2010, 3:33 pm

    I think most islands are intriguing, but the wildlife at Galapagos tops my list so far!

  15. Jess
    October 6, 2010, 3:28 pm

    This atlas sounds great! Reminds me of a blog I periodically check, that really stuck out as an interesting if not tedious hobby. The blog is called EVS Islands: Enhanced Vector Shorelines of the World – One Island, One Coastline, One River and One Lake at a time
    The author periodically publishes posts of his work digitizing remote islands and shorelines, and has been doing so since 2005.
    Thanks for the post – will definitely check out this atlas!

  16. Mark Watkins
    October 6, 2010, 2:49 pm

    So it’s not an obscure island, but (for me at least), it’s remote: Sri Lanka. The people are friendly, there’s a wonderful and mostly happy collision of Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and Islam, the landscapes and geography are fabulous, the history diverse and intriguing, and the beaches and waters are inviting.

  17. natasha rhodes
    October 6, 2010, 1:42 pm

    Macquarie Island, Australia – amazing wildlife, King and Royal penguins in the thousands, plus gentoo’s and rockhoppers, interesting history, and current projects taking place to eradicate the rabbits and restore the natural beauty of these islands.

  18. Tim Abraham
    October 6, 2010, 1:14 pm

    Easter Island (Rapa Nui)
    The moai, disappearance of forests, birdman cult, civil war, famine, petroglyphs and many other fascinating features all combine to make the island extremely intriguing!

  19. yulia fitria
    October 6, 2010, 1:02 pm

    Papua in indonesia because the nature like the islands visited by robinson cruiso.The under water view is can see at or search on google raja ampat diving.You can book through us and win free adventure and spa in bali.plese visit

  20. Genevieve Fournier
    October 6, 2010, 12:57 pm

    Faroe islands always had a plus in my interests, since anything about UK passionates me. And I might go to these islands one day!!!
    But really, everything off the beaten path is interesting.

  21. Brooke Drury
    October 6, 2010, 12:53 pm

    Kingman Reef and the Phoenix Islands. I hear that they are a 5 day sail from Fiji, which is in itself pretty remote. I am intrigued by the diving opportunities there after seeing NG pictures from a recent article. I would love to get out there and do some research using baseline data from previous expeditions to determine the effect of losing the shark population to overfishing.
    These spots make me wish that I had learned how to sail. For now though, I’m just glad to know they exist….something to think about just as I drift off to sleep at night.

  22. Jenna Schnuer
    October 6, 2010, 12:52 pm

    I thought the piece would go live and I would just move on with the rest of my day (and deadlines). But you’re all providing such good reads! Perhaps we should all just board a boat together and go remote island hopping. It would take the rest of our lives but…I’m up for it.

  23. Ron
    October 6, 2010, 12:50 pm

    This looks like a great book. I’m very intrigued by Aldabra. Aldabra is the second largest coral atoll in the world and a remote part of the Seychelles. The island is uninhabited by humans and has the largest population (150,000) of giant tortoises as well as many other very unique and rare land and sea animals. A giant tortoise from Aldabra lived to be 255 years old. This island reminds me of a modern day Galapagos

  24. Andrew
    October 6, 2010, 12:34 pm

    North Sentinel Island in the Bay of Bengal most intrigues me. It’s not a place that I (or anyone else from the modern world) will visit because it’s inhabited by one of the very last (nearly) uncontacted peoples in the world, the Sentinelese. That such people exist in isolation from the marvels and terrors of the modern world simply amazes me. The isolation and continued existence of these people is tied intrinsically to their single remote island – if that doesn’t make for an intriguing island, I don’t know what does.

  25. Jill
    October 6, 2010, 12:33 pm

    I want to explore Fraser Island, but this book sounds like I will find a few more places to daydream about after reading! And there are maps! Yeah!

  26. Jared
    October 6, 2010, 12:23 pm

    Blast. Mela beat me to my own personal punch, which is also Tristan da Cunha. I want to set up geocaches there sooooo badly.
    Luckily, I have a second (and third) remote island in my list of favorites. The first is St Kilda off the coast of Scotland in the North Sea. The other is the French Southern and Antarctic Lands out in the middle of the Southern Ocean. (The latter because they are the closest land mass that is directly opposite my home town on Earth.)

  27. Stephanie
    October 6, 2010, 12:22 pm

    I have an acquaintance from Mauritius. His pictures make the place and the people look impossibly beautiful.

  28. Elizabeth
    October 6, 2010, 12:18 pm

    Saint Helena – so much history an intrigue yet it’s rife with everything from a budding ‘population’ center to desolate areas to disappear in. It’s so interesting to see how people have formed their lives there while being (almost) completely removed from the rest of the world (albeit an influx of ‘tourism’). The advancements and whole community that have formed would be quite an experience, juxtaposed with an even more remote, ‘native’ island. Even more so to see how said tourism have shaped this island into being how it is today – sampling off whoever happened to step off the boat commingled with inhabitants own backgrounds.

  29. Jenny Coon Peterson
    October 6, 2010, 12:05 pm

    Svalbard! When you say the word “island,” it seems most people automatically think tropical. But the Svalbard archipelago is the extreme opposite of that. It’s cold and remote and yet still exotic – so enticing. Plus, Svalbard is such a fun word to pronounce.

  30. Ben Hilmer
    October 6, 2010, 12:00 pm

    I’ve been interested in the Seychelles since 5th grade; that’s almost 15 years ago.

  31. John Baldwin
    October 6, 2010, 11:40 am

    In 1999, my wife and I spent two weeks on Aitutaki in the Cook Islands of the South Pacific.
    Aitutaki is a very small, circular atoll about seven miles in diameter. It is reached by flying from Los Angeles to the capital of the Cooks, Roratonga, on Air New Zealand airlines and
    then on to Aitutaki on a small inter-island airplane skimming a few hundred feet above the blue pacific.
    Life in this polynesian paradise is very slow and relaxed. Most folks get around on bicycles or motor scooters. We stayed at a small resort that was situated on a small islet in the inner lagoon. We quickly shed our city ways and adopted the island way of living. One of the very fun things we did was to ride out to one of the far
    sides of the atoll for snorkeling and exploring. You can imagine floating in crystal clear pleasantly warm water watching schools of
    glistening multi-colored fish drifting and darting. I use the word ‘Bliss’ a lot when describing our experience on Aitutaki. I
    think this is because I could very easily live out the rest of my life on Aitutaki.

  32. Mela
    October 6, 2010, 11:36 am

    @IntelligentTrav @NatGeoTraveler I’m intrigued by Tristan da Cunha, it’s a 6-day cruise from Cape Town, South Africa