Islands of Abandonment – a review

Blurb from Goodreads:
Investigative journalist Cal Flyn’s ISLANDS OF ABANDONMENT, an exploration of the world’s most desolate, abandoned places that have now been reclaimed by nature, from the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea to the “urban prairie” of Detroit to the irradiated grounds of Chernobyl, in an ultimately redemptive story about the power and promise of the natural world. 

I saw an article about this book in a newspaper and was intrigued by the idea. I love ruins and have spent many hours poking around ruined castles etc so a book about abandoned places really appealed. I’m so glad that I read it as it was truly excellent as well as being eye-opening.

The book is about those places that humans have touched and then for various reasons abandoned. One or two are actual islands but most are areas, some remote, that humans have largely given up on. Cal Flyn has visited 12 of these places around the world and looked at how nature has gradually reclaimed the land.

When she began the research for the book, Cal Flyn expected it to be a book of darkness where she visited the worst places in the world. However, she found something very different. “In fact, it is a story of redemption: how the most polluted spots on Earth can be rehabilitated through ecological processes.”

The book is split into four parts with a different focus in each one.

The first part which is the longest is centred on four sites in Europe where humans used to live and have now moved away. The author starts in her home country of Scotland but then moves to Northern Cyprus, Chernobyl and Estonia. I was astonished at her findings in this section especially in the section on the abandoned collective farms in the old Soviet Union. As the farms were abandoned when the Soviet Union fell, nature returned. Acres of land were reclaimed and the hypothesis is that this has created a huge carbon sink which is partly counter-balancing the loss of forests in Brazil and elsewhere.

The second is places which haven’t quite been abandoned completely and covers Detroit and Paterson New Jersey. Here people are still living although in much smaller numbers than previously and nature is again, taking back its territory.

In part three, she covers places where humans have left a huge impact on the land which still persists today. The chapter on the botanical garden in Tanzania was especially thought provoking.

The final section is called Endgame and looks at places where humans have practically destroyed the environment. This section is the bleakest as she looks at how badly we have polluted some areas beyond all hope of repair. But even here, nature is fighting back.

I was engrossed by this book and fascinated by the author’s findings. It was quite an easy read, there is some Scientific background but this is perfectly understandable by a non-scientist such as myself. The text is enhanced by photographs of most of the sites but in actual fact, her descriptions are so vivid that you could easily manage without them. The writing is often almost poetic as she wanders around those derelict and abandoned sites.

Climate change is a constant presence in the book but her findings are more optimistic than might have been expected.

“Time is, after all, the great healer. The question is: How long does it need?. Then, How long have we got’. It may not be long”

It is a book of hope that maybe not all is lost. Despite everything that we do to harm our world, Nature still fights back.

I am so glad that I read this book and recommend it to anyone with any interest in how we impact our environment.

This is the third book towards my Non Fiction reader challenge hosted by Shelley Rae at Book’dout

Author: Janette

Recently retired Ex-Assistant Head of a large primary school in Leicestershire although I seem to be in school teaching quite a bit still.

12 thoughts on “Islands of Abandonment – a review”

  1. Love your review and I have added it to my Goodreads list. Hoope the library has this one.
    Visiting you from Book’d Out and the nonfiction post.

  2. This sounds so good. Something I definitely want to pick up. We saw some of these possibilities during lockdown when nature did begin to recover a little but sadly don’t seem to have learnt any lesson from it.

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