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Book review of:
of America Discovered: A Historical Atlas of North American Exploration,
by Derek Hayes. |
Reviewer: Mark Lamendola
This beautiful book takes you on a guided tour of the geographical exploration of America. And it does that by showing and explaining over 300 of the maps explorers created while discovering North America. Many of these maps are richly detailed and visually stunning. The seven-page map catalog in the back of the book "sums up" these maps by providing the page on which the map appears, map name, map author, and source. Some of these are in vaults and not available for public viewing.
Hayes is a solid researcher and you can trust his work. That scored big points with me, because I've recently come across several books that present themselves as factual--when in reality they are poorly-researched and full of misinformation.
Unlike some authors, Hayes honors his contract with the reader.
Hayes combines his solid research with a writing style that brings the subject to life, warts and all. The journey he takes you on starts in 1000 AD and continues to the present day. With Hayes as your guide, you follow the explorers as they discover North America and its wonders. These include the wide prairies, complicated coastal waterways, expansive rivers, and many mountains that make North America such a geographical treasure trove.
Hayes does a good job of arranging the maps by area and era. For example, he looks at the West and starts with maps from the earliest years of exploration and then proceeds to the most recent maps. Through Hayes' narrative, you see history unfold as though you are there watching the explorers themselves. We see their human side, which is sometimes self-defeating. Hayes uses a combination of objective observation and witty commentary to provide a tour that is both informative and entertaining.
The maps in this book reflect the knowledge and the ignorance of the times in which they were drawn. For example, the obsession with a "Northwest Passage" across the continent--a short trade route to China--caused many mapmakers to draw in waterways that weren't there. Other mapmakers would then copy and propagate the mythological features.
I found myself reading this book with my tabletop globe at my side. As Hayes discussed the various islands, bays, rivers, and other features, I wanted to know where each one was and how it fit into the overall map. I also found myself frequently comparing the explorers' maps to the globe and chuckling as Hayes revealed how this or that map differed from reality--and why.
Because I have an interest in geography, I would have been satisfied with just the maps and some brief explanatory text. And I think even someone not especially interested in geography would have found such a book worth sitting down with for an afternoon if that's all it contained, because these maps are just so intriguing. But, there's more. Far more.
Yes, I've already said Hayes also explained other things. But, he didn't throw in a few "human interest" tidbits about the explorers. He told the story behind the story. The stories of the political machinations that drove many of these explorations would have made an interesting book in its own right. So, now the reader gets this great set of geography lessons while also enjoying the kinds of plot twists you might expect from a good novel. Great stuff!
Get this book for your tabletop, if you want something visually impressive for your visitors. Read this book, if you want a great read that leaves you with an impressive knowledge of the exploration of North America.
About these reviews
You may be wondering why the reviews here are any different from the hundreds of "reviews" posted online. Notice the quotation marks?
I've been reviewing books for sites like Amazon for many years now, and it dismays me that Amazon found it necessary to post a minimum word count for reviews. It further dismays me that it's only 20 words. If that's all you have to say about a book, why bother?
And why waste everyone else's time with such drivel? As a reader of such reviews, I feel like I am being told that I do not matter. The flippancy of people who write these terse "reviews" is insulting to the authors also, I would suspect.
This sound bite blathering taking the place of any actual communication is increasingly a problem in our mindless, blog-posting Webosphere. Sadly, Google rewards such pointlessness as "content" so we just get more if this inanity.
My reviews, contrary to current (non) standards, actually tell you about the book. I always got an "A" on a book review I did as a kid (that's how I remember it anyhow, and it's my story so I'm sticking to it). A book review contains certain elements and has a logical structure. It informs the reader about the book.
A book review may also tell the reader whether the reviewer liked it, but revealing a reviewer's personal taste is not necessary for an informative book review.
About your reviewer
About reading style
No, I do not "speed read" through these. That said, I do read at a fast rate. But, in contrast to speed reading, I read everything when I read a book for review.
Speed reading is a specialized type of reading that requires skipping text as you go. Using this technique, I've been able to consistently "max out" a speed reading machine at 2080 words per minute with 80% comprehension. This method is great if you are out to show how fast you can read. But I didn't use it in graduate school and I don't use it now. I think it takes the joy out of reading, and that pleasure is a big part of why I read.