Early Mapping of the Pacific: The Epic Story of Seafarers, Adventurers, and Cartographers Who Mapped the Earth's Greatest Ocean

by Thomas Suarez
ISBN: 0794600921

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A Review of: Early Mapping Of The Pacific: The Epic Story Of Seafarers, Adventurers, and Cartographers Who Mapped The EarthÆs Greatest Ocean
by Greg Gatenby

The worst part of this book is the title, for it is dry, almost academically anemic. However the text inside is a terrific example of historical writing. The prose is fully accessible and jargon-free, yet plangent with research. The author manages that neat trick so rare among historians: he conveys an authority based upon years, if not decades, of study, while imparting a wealth of facts and stories in an engaging, comprehensible manner. Where water and coastline are concerned, the Pacific Ocean should mean almost as much to Canadians as the Atlantic, but it is the latter which dominates our textbooks and historical tomes. Suarez reminds us of the importance of the western ocean to our history, and wryly informs us, as Canadians and as residents of the western hemisphere, of how long it took European cartographers to grasp the magnificent breadth of the ocean-or learn even its shape and perimeter. He is especially good at explaining why it took the Europeans so long to stumble onto the northern coast, and then the continental mass of Australia, despite having knowledge of the tiniest atoll leagues from anywhere. Yet another strength of this title is the author's study of Asian sources, and the fanciful, occasionally astute conjectures of the Japanese and Chinese cartographers form a nice counterpoint to those of their Continental European counterparts.
The book would be worth buying for the cogency of the writing alone, but it is the abundance of colour maps and the savvy of their display which takes the breath away. A few of the maps are of interest only to the specialist (although even these are pretty to look at). But the rest are fascinating, either for what they show (usually islands created out of nothing by cartographers in Spain, Holland or England), or for what they fail to (surprisingly little was known even into the late Victorian age). Suarez assumes an interested but ignorant reader: he guides unpatronizingly through the history of exploration one studied in school but has mostly forgotten. Would that our own history teachers had been as witty or as well-informed.

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