of America Discovered: A Historical Atlas of North American Exploration,
by Derek Hayes. |
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
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.