Atlas Obscura: Explorer’s Guide to Hidden Treasures

Dylan Thuras and Ella Morton introduce their book Atlas Obscura at the New York Public Library’s Mid-Manhattan Branch.

By Andrew Andrews

When people think of the New York Public Library in Midtown, they usually picture the historic landmark Stephen A. Schwarzman Main Branch Building on the edge of Bryant Park. But diagonally across the street, in a much more practical but equally less attractive building (but only until August, when a major renovation promises to transform the building into a dramatic, inviting space with the “only free public roof terrace in Midtown”), Manhattan’s “real” library (it’s largest and busiest circulating branch) hosts a variety of events directed more toward New Yorkers than the tourist crowd, including an array of author talks on a wider variety of subjects than there are numbers in the Dewey Decimal System.

Tonight we visited the library after a long absence for a presentation from Atlas Obscura editors Dylan Thuras and Ella Morton, titled An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders. Now, we were already fans of the Atlas and the kind of quirky gems exposed on their web site: those off-the-beaten-path destinations (that are actually sometimes hidden right beneath your feet) most tourists wouldn’t even consider visiting because they don’t carry the bragging rights of the immediately-recongizable Machu Picchu, Eiffel Tower or (closer to home) Statue of Liberty.

Of course, all of the sights depicted in the printed Atlas can easily be perused on the web site, but there’s something a bit overwhelming about thousands of entries, even though the electronic version is itself highly curated. And let’s be honest: there’s a certain appeal to hard copy that explains why countless enthusiasts continue to scorn e-books and digital readers in favor of the pulped page, despite the negative impact that paper production has on the environment. And Atlas Obscura is exactly the kind of coffee table book that solidifies (no pun intended) one’s identity as an explorer instead of a mere tourist. That’s what drew us to this talk, and it’s what beckons us to visit more of the sights—make that experiences—that Thuras and Morton presented.

As we said of the New York City Transit Museum, events at the Mid-Manhattan Public Library always draw an “interesting” mix of attendees: locals just looking for a free and interesting way to pass some time, perpetual students hoping to learn something new, and those, like us, with a level of interest in the topic at hand that ranges from “just curious” to completely obsessed. If you attend a talk at the library, you might choose to stay for the question & answer session or leave immediately after the presentation, but either way, you’ll always get your money’s worth! We strongly recommend that you follow the MMPL’s calendar of Programs, Classes and Events, and check out the “old” library this spring or summer before renovations get underway, so you can experience the “before and after” effect when the work has been completed. And if you’re tired of travels to sights overrun with tourists—or need more than familiar photo opportunities to make your vacations seem worthwhile—we equally recommend the Atlas Obscura (both its online and print versions) as your definitive guide to the world’s most unique places and experiences!

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Andrew Andrews attended Atlas Obscura: Explorer’s Guide to Hidden Treasures at Mid-Manhattan Library in New York on Monday, April 17, 2017 @ 6:30pm to write this review.

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