California as an Island: a book review

This is a book review I submitted to Amazon after reading the excellent historical account of California as an island:  The Island of California: A History of the Myth.   It will be interesting to see if Amazon keeps it posted.

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Polk has written a scholarly review of the history of California as an island, although, as one notices from the title, a completely biased one that assumes from the beginning that California never was, nor could ever have been, an island.

Polk devotes most of the book to a historical account of how the west coast of the new world was explored, from the early Spanish explorers on the heels of Columbus, to the English looking for a Northwest Passage, and finally to Father Kino, who, two hundred years after Columbus, walked to California from New Mexico, establishing California’s connectedness.  Polk is obviously the student of history, as she excels in the details of the story, which is full of interesting quotes from the original sources.  Polk spends an inordinate amount of time looking for evidence in history that it was a preconceived belief in California’s islandness that kept the explorers from the truth.  One wonders if, ironically, Polk’s preconceived belief that “all is as it has always been” keeps her from the truth, or at least from considering any view out of the main.

I was obviously disappointed in the one sided view of the possibility of Califonia’s  islandness.  Polk refers to the Peri Reiss map of North America, made famous by Charles Hapgood in “Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings”, but makes no mention of Hapgood or his book on the incredible accuracy of maps predating the Greeks.  One gets the feeling that to mention Hapgood would be violating the sacred teachings of the liberal world that the ancient world was full of knuckle dragging Neanderthals incapable of mapping the world.  Yet the ancient maps existed, showing California as an island, copied and passed down until they reached the map makers of Columbus’ day, who used them to document an unknown world.

Polk makes little mention of the geographical features on Island California maps, preferring to focus on the history of discovery in the 1500-1700s.  Of note is how pathetically little  was known of the geography of the west coast of America.  In spite of this the island California maps show remarkable and inexplicable detail of a supposedly mythical coastline, including a very accurate drawing of the shoreline of the ancient Lake Gosuit in Wyoming.  Yet at the same time, as Polk relates to us, the explorers after two hundred years were still not sure if it was the Colorado River at the north end of the Gulf of California, or an opening into the Northwest Passage.

This is a good book for a student of history, especially California history, but it’s not the whole story.

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