Frank Bures is a writer you might recognise from sources of great American journalism like The Atlantic or Harper’s, who writes about stuff you never knew you needed to know about, until you do. The Geography of Madness is his first book, a tour of the planet’s “culture-bound” syndromes and disorders.
Bures introduces his work in a set-up not unlike an episode of Ripley’s Believe it Or Not – “this is a work of nonfiction” – so outlandish are the tales he reports. He’s travelled the world in search of madnesses that occur within and are exclusive to certain locations: Malaysian incidences of “running amok”; penis thieves in Lagos; Caribbean people foretelling their own deaths. This book is the collection of that research, a comprehensive geographical guide to our world’s weirdest maladies.
Amongst all of these baffling phenomena, we have the equally striking presentation of national and regional boundaries. Since the early 90s, we’ve all experienced a slow and steady decay in our sense of national identity thanks to the onset of globalisation, with some theorists predicting “the end of culture as we know it”. With borders being shut and European Union exits proposed, globalisation’s slow crawl has grinded to something of a halt as we’re all forced to reconsider our place in the world. The Geography of Madness comes at the perfect time to re-examine how our local environment affects us, and offers a concrete argument about the power of place.
Written in the comforting style of the American journalist/essayist (he’s got some Best American Essays credits up his sleeve), Bures takes us into the weirdest of scenes with the breeziest of styles:
The sun was high and the day was already hot when our car rolled into Alagbado, a dusty, run-down town on the far edge of Lagos, the Nigerian mega-city where a young man names Wasiu Karimu was reported to live. His penis had been stolen.
The Geography of Madness is the perfect travel book for fans of Jon Ronson, Louis Theroux and Charlie Brooker, and will keep its readers stocked with never-before-told anecdotes for months. It’s recommended for anyone up for taking a second look at the world and how we live in it.
The Geography of Madness is published 28 April by Melville House
Read about our other April books of the month: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 4 | Part 5
Find more Melville House non-fiction here
Post by Heather