Monday, March 01, 2010

Book: George R. Stewart's "Names on the Land"

My goal was to read two books a month.  Well, that didn't happen.  My latest read, George R. Stewart's "Names on the Land: A Historic Account of Place-Naming in the United States" took me nearly a month to finish.  I think the Olympics and illness were the main culprits as I watched more of these Winter Olympics than I've ever done and the cold/flu/bug that I fought off also sapped my desire to read.

"Names on the Land" is 441 pages of anecdotes explaining how various landmarks, towns, counties, and states got their names.  The subject is an interesting one, at least to me.  The author, who also wrote another, quite different, book that I've read, took on the difficult task of organizing all the information in a logical, cogent order. He doesn't quite make it.  I'm not sure it's his fault either as grouping such diverse histories, locations, and explanation is a list maker's nightmare.  The anecdotes are interesting but the shear number of them are overwhelming at times and trying to keep things straight was a little exhausting at times.  I'm sorry about this because I was really interested in this subject.  The origins of names has always interested me as the stories can often be humorous and quirky.

The book was originally written and published in 1944 and the edition I read added three chapters to include Alaska, Hawaii, and other additions to the country's names since the writing of the book.  In his introduction he talked about not needing to change the original book when he added the three chapters.  I respectfully disagree as the last three chapters felt tacked on and would have been better if he had rearranged some information in the last few chapters to improve the flow of information.

So, did I like the book?  I really want to like it.  I like the information but not the organization so I can only recommend it to people who really want to know about the naming of places.

One more thing.  Since I read this book, I can't pass a street sign without wondering how the street got it's name.  Why Pacific and California Streets in Omaha and who was Martha Street named after?  I may just have to find out.

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