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Sad Topographies By Damien Rudd (Review) @simonschusterUK #NonFictionNovember


Sent to me by Simon & Schuster in exchange for an honest review.

Release Date: 09/11/17

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

ISBN: 978-1471169298

Format: Hardback, 224pp

Genre: Non-Fiction

Rating: 4.5/5

Summed up in a word: Pensive

First Impressions

Sad Topographies immediately caught my eye for two reasons. First off it is a unique concept that peaked my interest. Secondly the book is visually sensational and I wasted no time diving head first within. It may sound like a bit of a downer (and it is at times) but Damien Rudd narrative based writing and obvious enthusiasm for the subjects of geography, history and mythology is 100% captivating. The art work provided by Kateryna Didyk is phenomenal and I couldn’t get enough of her minimalistic but mesmerising topographical drawings. I recommend Sad Topographies to all history and mythology lovers who can appreciate great pieces of artwork.

Book Synopsis

Sad Topographies is an illustrated guide for the melancholic among us.

Dispirited travellers rejoice as Damien Rudd journeys across continents in search of the world’s most joyless place names and their fascinating etymologies.

Behind each lugubrious place name exists a story, a richly interwoven narrative of mythology, history, landscape, misadventure and tragedy. From Disappointment Island in the Southern Ocean to Misery in Germany, across to Lonely Island in Russia, or, if you’re feeling more intrepid, pay a visit to Mount Hopeless in Australia – all from the comfort of your armchair.

With hand drawn maps by illustrator Kateryna Didyk, Sad Topographies will steer you along paths that lead to strange and obscure places, navigating the terrains of historical fact and imaginative fiction. At turns poetic and dark-humoured, this is a travel guide quite like no other.

Damien Rudd is the founder of the hugely popular Instagram account @sadtopographies.

My Review

“It was in mid-2015 that I happened upon Mount Hopeless. Not the geological landform, but its name on a map of southern Australia; two microscopic words nestled among a tapestry of topographic contour lines. I was struck by the wonderful absurdity of this small discovery – why, I thought to myself, would there be a mountain called Hopeless in the middle of nowhere?” Damien Rudd, Introduction.

There has been a lot of tragedy, suffering, devastation and misery in the world over the centuries in the fight to get us where we are today. There are a whole host of locations around the world that acknowledge the rich and dark (at times unspeakable) history of the country or culture it resides within. From Disappointment Island, Road To Nowhere and End of the World to Lonely Island, Doom Town and Cape Grim; all these destinations embrace the history and mythology that is ingrained within its essence. Damien Rudd has had a fascination with place names after coming across Mount Hopeless on a map and pondering the etymological, historical, cultural and ideological meanings behind such depressive names. The result is Sad Topographies and it is both a cracking read and a gorgeous tribute to dispiriting land masses that populate our world.

Damien Rudd takes us through an impressive amount of different locations and the story behind them. Each location is accompanied with a story that captures the essence and meaning behind each destination and why it garnered such a disturbing or morose name. Each place is also expertly drawn and mapped out with a visually engrossing topographical sketch. The sketches are probably my favourite element to this book because they both enhance the contextual and informative aspects of the book. I spent ages examining and imagining all the unique features to each landform and I could help losing myself in all the glorious drawings, sketches, images, photographs and posters. The artwork is superb but Sad Topographies wouldn’t be the book it is without Rudd’s narrative writing style that is both engrossing and immersive.

Rudd is a born story teller. I was drawn in by his historical narratives that put me in the shoes of many key individuals who explored the New World, the Antarctic and beyond. Damien says he has never visited these locations but he definitely understands the mythology and meaning behind them. During the Age of Exploration between 15-17th centuries many of these locations were discovered or born. I was amazed by the rich tapestry of events that led to the naming of these places. Suicide Forest in Japan is steeped in mythology and cultural mystery. It is one of the worlds most popular suicide destination but it took many centuries of history to become what it is today. That is the kind of message that DR is trying to convey; there is a lot in a name. Rudd is a true Toponymist!

“The first toponymists were storytellers, those who attempted to explain the forgotten origin of places names through a weaving of history, myth and imagination. Landscape often functions as a metaphor for language, and it is said that one can read the landscape as they do a book. In that sense, these place names function as a kind of index; each name the title of a story written across the pages of the landscape.” Damien Rudd

Between the main sections there are insights into DR’s own journey of discovery. These moments were filled with pensive thought, meaningful interaction and existential discovery. They are a stark contrast to the location sections with long sections of deep thinking and consideration. I personally enjoyed them quite a bit, making me see what the economical, sociological and cultural influences have on the location itself as well as the mindsets of those who occupy it. I always get jealous of writers who can connect so easily with the world around them, I find it difficult a lot of the time but Rudd is a natural. DR is a talented travel writer and I hope to see more of his own personal narratives again in another book in the future.

It is tough to pick a favourite piece as they are all pretty much soaked in misery or something of that calibre. That is not to say this book is depressing, not at all (well sometimes), it is a book about understanding. Damien is trying to be a downer, he is trying to get us to connect with the world around us and has used a unique subject to convey stories and information. A lot of these locations, especially Deception Island in Antarctica and End of the World in California, are pivotal in socio-economical history. Sad Topographies isn’t just an indulgence of a writer’s interests, it is a meaningful book filled with knowledge. I especially enjoyed the index of locations at the very end of the book. There are quite a few depressing place names in the world, forget Nothing or No Hope Island, I am talking All Alone (UK) or Road to Misery (US). Each with their own story.

Overall I highly recommend Sad Topographies. It is not only an aesthetically pleasing addition to your book collection but it is also a fountain of knowledge. One I am grateful to have added to my book collection. Great writing, factual accounts of history and gorgeous artwork is what awaits you if you choose to read Sad Topographies. I am eagerly awaiting Damien Rudd’s next outing with bated breath.

Pick up a copy of Sad Topographies here: Simon & Schuster / Amazon UK / Goodreads

About Damien Rudd

Damien Rudd (1984) is an artist and writer, born in Sydney, Australia. He received his MFA from Kunsthøgskoleni Bergen, Norway. He currently lives in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, where he works on a study of Aby Warburg’s Mnemosyne Atlas. The collection of sad topographies from which this book originated can be found at

About Kateryna Didyk

Katernya Didyk (1990) is an illustrator and printmaker, born in Vinnytsia, Ukraine. She specialises in etching, monotype, water colour painting and digital art. In 2017, Kateryna graduated from Kyiv National Academy of Fine Art and Archtecture where she received her master’s degree in printmaking and book illustration. She currently lives and works in Kiev.



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