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Islands of Abandonment: Nature Rebounding in the Post-Human Landscape (Paperback)
Have you ever looked at those Instagram accounts that are just photos of abandoned buildings? With their peeling paint, gaping doorways like so many open mouths, detritus scattered across the floor, ivy growing in through the broken windows – if you, like me, relish the eerie hollow feeling these photos leave in your stomach, you’ll adore Cal Flyn’s Islands of Abandonment, in which she explores several areas like these – vacated by humans for whatever reason (radiation poisoning in one case; political no-man’s land in another), and reclaimed by nature in the absence of interference. From Estonia’s farmlands, abandoned after the fall of the Soviet Union, to the industrial waste bings (shale heaps) of West Lothian, Scotland, Flyn’s beautifully provocative prose walks hand in hand with scientific research and statistics, which gently brushes cheeks with firsthand accounts of life and existence in these post-human spaces. It’s a gorgeous love letter to desolation, to the self-sufficiency of nature (Flyn mentions several times that humans generally think of themselves as stewards of nature in a sense; culling ugly or undesirable species – she references New York City’s High Line when discussing carefully curated “nature”, when in reality everything would really be much healthier and better if humans just kind of left well enough alone and let the plants grow where they want and where they’ll thrive). In Chernobyl’s exclusion zone, the most radioactive place on Earth, boars and wolves have risen to new population highs; in Korea’s Demilitarized Zone, too politically fraught and mine-studded for humans to venture, endangered and near-extinct species thrive.
We all know I’m a nerd for David Attenborough and Chernobyl stuff, and if I were a braver soul I’d be into urban exploration – as it is, my favorite book as a teenager was John Green’s Paper Towns – so this book speaks directly to my heart and soul, and who am I to resist a sneaky little whisper? Especially if it says hey … come look at the Chernobyl exclusion zone, I have all sorts of beasts in here.
- Grace— From Grace Recommends!
A beautiful, lyrical exploration of the places where nature is flourishing in our absence
"[Flyn] captures the dread, sadness, and wonder of beholding the results of humanity's destructive impulse, and she arrives at a new appreciation of life, 'all the stranger and more valuable for its resilence.'" --The New Yorker
Some of the only truly feral cattle in the world wander a long-abandoned island off the northernmost tip of Scotland. A variety of wildlife not seen in many lifetimes has rebounded on the irradiated grounds of Chernobyl. A lush forest supports thousands of species that are extinct or endangered everywhere else on earth in the Korean peninsula's narrow DMZ.
Cal Flyn, an investigative journalist, exceptional nature writer, and promising new literary voice visits the eeriest and most desolate places on Earth that due to war, disaster, disease, or economic decay, have been abandoned by humans. What she finds every time is an "island" of teeming new life: nature has rushed in to fill the void faster and more thoroughly than even the most hopeful projections of scientists.
Islands of Abandonment is a tour through these new ecosystems, in all their glory, as sites of unexpected environmental significance, where the natural world has reasserted its wild power and promise. And while it doesn't let us off the hook for addressing environmental degradation and climate change, it is a case that hope is far from lost, and it is ultimately a story of redemption: the most polluted spots on Earth can be rehabilitated through ecological processes and, in fact, they already are.
About the Author
Cal Flyn is an author, an investigative journalist, and a MacDowell fellow from the Highlands of Scotland. She has worked as a reporter for The Sunday Times and The Telegraph and has contributed to publications including Granta, The Guardian, The Times, The Observer, and others. Her first book, Thicker Than Water, was one of The Times's best books of 2016.
FINALIST FOR THE BAILLIE GIFFORD PRIZE, THE WAINWRIGHT CONSERVATION AWARD, THE BRITISH ACADEMY BOOK PRIZE, and THE SCOTTISH NONFICTION BOOK OF THE YEAR
A VULTURE "BOOK OF THE SUMMER"
A BEST TRAVEL BOOK OF THE YEAR in THE WASHINGTON POST, SMITHSONIAN MAGAZINE, and NEWSWEEK
THE SUNDAY TIMES’ SCIENCE AND ENVIRONMENT BOOK OF THE YEAR
LONGLISTED FOR THE HIGHLAND BOOK PRIZE 2021
“Captures the dread, sadness, and wonder of beholding the results of humanity’s destructive impulse, and…arrives at a new appreciation of life.” –The New Yorker
"Vital...Flyn offers cautious optimism for the fate of the planet's species. She resists being paralyzed by fear and encourages people to 'find faith enough to fight' climate change.'"–Washington Post
“[A] heartening look at nature’s power to reclaim the places where humans no longer linger…Haunting? Yes, but also hopeful.” –NatGeo
“A book of rare pathos, it described nature’s tendency to reclaim areas that humans had used, abused and left behind. Places rendered uninhabitable…were now running wild.”
–The Washington Post Magazine
“[A] riveting collection of essays…. Through lush and poetic language, [Flyn] captures the vital forces at work in the natural world. This is nature writing at its most potent.” —Publishers Weekly (Starred)
“Brave, unflinching, and keenly observant….Flyn writes with the soul of a poet and the eye of a painter…” —Booklist (Starred)
“Strangely beautiful…absorbing” –Library Journal, (Starred)
"[Flyn] has an eye for the fresh facet and telling detail, delivered with a crisp lyricism…Islands of Abandonment is ultimately far more than a factual survey of liminal geographies, although it’s a well-researched one. And it is more than an eloquent foray into landscapes of the mind. By mapping the ecological recovery now sweeping the globe, it celebrates the power of benign neglect in enabling nature to do the journeywork of regeneration…” —Medium
“There have been trailblazing nonfiction titles on rewilding: most famously, Isabella Tree’s Wilding, George Monbiot’s Feral and, more recently, Cal Flyn’s Islands of Abandonment.” —LitHub
“Bracing, eye-opening, comprehensive, and essential, Islands of Abandonment is an energizing and important work. It affirms that nature is resilient, given half a chance, and should motivate all of us to try harder, even for the habitats that seem broken or hopeless.”
--Jeff VanderMeer, New York Times bestselling author of Annihilation and the Southern Reach Trilogy
"Full of surprise and hope, spiced with horror. A vivid guide to the strange and resilient life of seemingly ruined and waste spaces, one that calls us to new understandings of nature and beauty."
--David George Haskell, Pulitzer Prize finalist and author of The Forest Unseen and The Songs of Trees