As a child, I never enjoyed touring historic locations, and I especially despised touring old houses with dusty old furniture where some dead famous person used to live. I remember visiting the Little Women house and wondering where we would have lunch. The humble abode where Lewis Carroll went through the looking glass did nothing to excite me, though I was an avid reader and writer. I admit that I haven’t gotten much better as an adult.

But The Geek Atlas: 128 Places Where Science & Technology Come Alive by John Graham-Cumming has changed that for me. This is, in essence, a travel book intended to be informative about geeky places that you might want to visit as you meander around the planet.


What I like

The book is very comprehensive in that it lists places from all over the world. The United States and the United Kingdom admittedly get quite a lot of space, which does lead me to think that there must be so very many more places that didn’t make the cut. But it is only 128 places to visit — not a list of all of the geeky places in the world.

I like the way the book is laid out by country and then by state for the United States.

The book also has clear visual reference key for each entry that tells whether a place is free admittance, whether refreshments are available on site, whether it is a suitable place to take children, and even whether each site can be visited regardless of weather. These are vital things to know when planning any outing.

From there, each site is described, both in physical attributes and in its importance in history. The author doesn’t simply tell us that the Musée Curie is where Marie Curie worked — he also provides the background of Madam Curie, and an overview of her life, her work, and why it is important. This is way better than listening to a bored 20-year-old limply indicate a desk and say “that’s her desk over there.”

The Geek Atlas also features interludes of information that is relevant to each site, though not necessarily relevant to the actual tours. The section on the Musee Curie is enriched with a discussion on ionizing radiation and smoke detectors. This is where The Geek Atlas really stands out as a travel guide. Like a good teacher, the author builds upon each subject, enhancing the experience and enriching the readers’ and visitors’ knowledge. These sections take the book from travel guide to good reading.

What I don’t like

My only complaint is that the enrichment sections are placed square in the middle of the site descriptions. Though the pages are bordered, making it visually obvious that this is a knowledge enhancing interlude, it would be preferable for these sections to come after each corresponding site and not in the middle. The layout is a bit jarring because of this feature.

Geek bottom line

All in all, the book is quite good. The value-added features are the enrichment sections, where Graham-Cumming makes history and science accessible to the average geeky reader.

Geek gift score (out of 5)

  • Fun factor: ****
  • Geek factor: *****
  • Value: *****
  • Overall: ****

Related: Check out TechRepublic members’ recommendations for geek vacation spots.

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