Will Atkins decided to travel in six of the world's driest, hottest places...each of his travel narratives weaves aspects of natural history, historical background, and present-day reportage into a tapestry that reveals the human appeal of these often inhuman landscapes.
The Immeasurable World can be read in this way, as a series of passionate, eloquent dispatches from the hungry sands. Atkins ... tries to experience them all as directly as possible, raw to the ground, meeting the people and sharing the hardships. In all cases, he's acutely aware of the long histories of the places he's visiting ... But the principle joy of his book is the immediacy of its portraits; he talks engagingly with all walks of people living in deserts and often fighting for deserts ... Whether or not readers have ever personally experienced any desert regions, they'll feel that immediacy in the pages of The Immeasurable World.
We live on a crowded planet. The once unexplored corners of the world are all mapped and measured. To travel nowadays is to see what others have seen, to step where others have stepped ... For some, this is a blessing. In an age of GPS and smartphones, we need never get lost. Swipe and we know where we are. Click and up comes the nearest burger joint. Yet for the intrepid travel writer, this is a problem. Where on earth to go? ... In this rich and refreshing travelogue, William Atkins finds an answer: the desert ... Atkins’ ability to eke out close to 400 pages on the subject is testament both to his skill as a writer — sharp, sympathetic, endlessly informative — and the surprising abundance of his chosen topic. The desert is neither mausoleum nor museum, but rather a complex, living ecosystem.
At the outset of The Immeasurable World William Atkins explains how his first trip to the Empty Quarter of Arabia was occasioned by the end of a love affair. 'The woman I’d lived with for four years had taken a job overseas,' he writes. 'I would not be going with her.' ... 'The summer before, in the name of research, I’d spent a week with a community of Cistercian monks.' His flight to the deserts of this book is thus framed not as discovery but recovery; his impulse is an ascetic one, rather than voyeuristic or sybaritic. Atkins is not in thrall to deserts – in his words 'dead', 'forsaken' places – but loves them for their austerity, and the clarity of thought they grant. From Oman to Australia, from China to Arizona, deserts offer him allegories of humanity’s mistreatment of the planet, and of one another ... He picks his way across the stones towards the water.