Book Review: You Are Here


You Are Here, by Chris Hadfield, is a collection of 192 photographs taken from the International Space Station. The photographs are divided by continent and represent one idealised orbit of the earth. Each is accompanied by a comment from the author where he shares his observations on topography, geology and how man has shaped the land over time.

From space there is ample evidence of man, although nature paints a more varied and visually stunning landscape. The author points out where the shape of a promontory or other feature is reminiscent of an animal, an eye or the human brain. He brings humour to the pictures as well as insight.

Perspective of man’s occupation of this small planet is gained from the vastness of the areas in which there are no visible signs of his presence. The biggest cities are tiny whereas the deserts and plains stretch out to the horizon. The distance and scale of the shots are most obvious where the curvature of the earth can be seen in the distance.

Where signs of man’s activity exist they also provide sadness, such as where the gush of orange in the seas around Madagascar show the rivers carrying away topsoil due to deforestation, silting up the inlets. The night shots show lights that are brightest where man’s ambition hopes to be rewarded at whatever cost to the planet that sustains him.

I was struck by how futile are our efforts to control the whims of nature. From space the shaping of our world is shown to have been affected by meteors, volcanoes, earthquakes and the constantly changing climate over millennia. Any order which man has imposed can so easily be wiped out by any one of these events.

Naturally I was intrigued by the photographs that featured places I know personally. I was struck by the author’s comment that the only indication of real time human activity below is where there is enough plane traffic to create significant numbers of cross hatched contrails. These gave him comfort, that life as he knew it continued. Space must be a lonely place.

The book itself is of high quality, ideal for flicking through and admiring the awe inspiring prints. Read from cover to cover it provides an insight into both the vastness of the land and the arbitrary nature of the borders over which we as a species expend so much concern.

For those interested in our planet and in the view of it from afar this book is fascinating. A beautiful collection of photographs taken from a place that most of us can never hope to go.