Sunday, April 13, 2008

Derek Hayes' "Historical Atlas of California": Book Review

This chronologically depicts California's discovery, development, and divisions. It follows the guesses of the earliest European explorers (I wonder what a native map would look like, but none's represented) and you see the island gradually become a peninsula or archipelago before assuming over the centuries its coastline. Then, the interior begins to take shape, and cities and farms and railroads fill the spaces. A sort of time-lapse ideologically and practically from the past five centuries.

You better understand the gaps: Virginia is shown a few days from California in one early attempt, while the Gold Rush pioneers used routes that were narrowly drawn and could not be deviated from-- around the rest of the West there might be empty spaces, figuratively or cartographically. San Francisco benefits especially throughout its growth, and a 1906 aerial drawing shows dramatically the fire sweeping some--but not all-- of The City. Hayes informs us in his text how the fatalities had been underreported (under 500) when they may have been three or even six thousand. The speculators and profiteers did not want to ruin their chances of rebuilding and selling to new residents. Such chicanery can also be found in the early Spanish who kept their findings off the maps, or kept the maps secret, to avoid tipping off discoveries to the rival British.

Not only rail and auto and industrial, but oil, military, and unusual maps appear. Those in which the patterns of Los Angeles 125 years ago can be found in the train routes, and how these mirror the freeways today, are instructive. I also learned that a 185-mile interurban line once ran from Chico to the Bay Area, to my great surprise. Among other finds: the color-coded charts directing the Japanese relocations during WWII, Jo Mora's Sierra cartoon (but his Hollywood one's not here), and a 1887 Hollywood real estate map from its first booster who, typically, showed many more mountains than even a pre-smoggy day could be glimpsed from Tinseltown-- let alone the beaches!

The text is informative, but I caught an error: Henry Kaiser's steel mill would have not been built at Fontana "eight miles inland" to avoid Japanese attack. Perhaps Hayes meant "eighty"? I do wish some of the maps were larger; the book's affordable and portable enough, but this invariably cuts down the ability even with magnification to discern the kinds of precision that any lover of maps likely has who'd buy this book.

(Posted to Amazon today.)

No comments: