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Islands of Abandonment Book Review


Journalist Cal Flyn has published something truly special in Islands of Abandonment: Life in the Post-Human Landscape.

A non-fiction book, Flyn examines places around the world that have since been left behind by people. Often to the benefit of said places.

We travel to Chernobyl, out of town Detroit, the DMZ between North and South Korea, and even places closer to home in West Lothian, Scotland – just to name a handful of spots around the globe.

These places have typically been abandoned by humans following disasters, either natural or man-made. Others have been abandoned due to war or financial ruin.

Despite the somewhat sombre subject matter, Islands of Abandonment is a truly fascinating read, with shades of optimism and well worth anyone’s time.

There’s a strong climate change theme to Islands of Abandonment. Flyn finds, on her journeys, that whilst many of these places have been abandoned, they’re cultivating a life of their own. Nature is fighting back.

In fact, it’s argued throughout the book that in spite of mankind’s effects on the climate, nature can still rebound – create life of its own from the wreckage left behind. 

The phrase ‘in spite’ does a lot of heavy lifting here. Flyn isn’t arguing that people can continue to damage the environment. Rather, she floats the idea that nature endures. To quote Dr Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park, “Life, uh, finds a way.”

Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park
Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park

In Chernobyl, trees intersect with buildings – extending through the floors and windows. In the Bikini ATOL, where the Hiroshima bomb was tested, a vibrant underwater community of aquatic plants and animals are thriving. 

And in the Korean DMZ – now a virtually untouched Eden, Sumatran tigers roam free.

Flyn writes about these places with wonder and amazement, interviewing locals for insight commentary on the backgrounds behind these abandoned places.


This is the climate change book we need right now. If climate change fatigue is the problem, then Islands of Abandonment is the antidote.

Flyn’s book is optimistic, though rightly cautious, and is an eye-opening insight into the abandoned world that exists between our towns & cities around the globe.

I’m not sure that the English language possesses enough superlatives for this book. Seriously, buy it, borrow it from the library, and shout about it – it’s a phenomenal piece of writing and a strong contender for Tales from Absurdia’s Book of the Year.


Cal Flyn’s Islands of Abandonment is available to buy at Bookshop.org

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