Although I’ve lived in DC for six years, there were many places in this book that I had never even heard of before. Even when writing about famous sites like the National Air and Space Museum, Seiger points out artifacts that many of us would normally pass by. The sites vary widely, including outdoor parks, performing venues, restaurants, locations where seasonal events take place, and memorials in every quadrant of DC. In addition, the Tips section typically features other nearby sites—so really, you get to choose from almost 222 places! Even if you can’t get to all the sites, you’ll definitely discover at least one new favorite spot!
Like seas, deserts tend to be monotonous, disorienting, blinding, and endless. People can disappear in them without a trace. And unlike mountains, deserts don’t offer the incentive of a peak to scale—the goal is simply to make it out alive. So why explore a desert? For one thing, they’re not all the same. Some get as much as 35 cm of water a year, others as little as 5 mm. Some are gray, some pink—the sand covered with “a rind of ferric oxide.” Atkins, interested in “the axis where the absolute coexists with the infinite,” reports from the Empty Quarter, covering parts of Oman, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia; the Great Victoria Desert in Australia; the Gobi and Taklaman in China; Kazakhstan’s Aralkum; the Sonoran and Black Rock Deserts in the American Southwest; and the Eastern Desert in Egypt. Each essay is beautifully done and reflects the particular region’s character, belying that desert monotony. In some, Atkins focuses on the natural landscape, in others on native culture, history, the foreign (usually British) explorers, or new rituals, like the Burning Man festival. Overall, his emphasis is spiritual. He views Middle Eastern deserts, especially, “through a biblical filter.” He stays in monasteries, delves into China’s Caves of the Thousand Buddhas and writes empathetically and poignantly about the British nuclear tests that left the Great Victorian Desert a radioactive wasteland, robbing Indigenous peoples of a landscape so sacred they made no distinction between the desert and the Ancestors. This chapter alone is worth the price of the book, but Atkins leaves many indelible moments: an eagle blinded by an atomic flash, the stages of dehydration, an evaporated lake like “an eyeless socket,” the untold numbers of migrants lost in the Sonoran Desert, bodies that have “simply been erased,” the geography once again “enlisted as cordon and executioner.”