Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollectionsFixme

IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

February 18, 1996|Thomas Frick

THE ISLAND OF CALIFORNIA: A History of the Myth by Dora Beale and Polk Bison. (University of Nebraska: $15; 400 pp.) The wondrous isle of fantasy and fear, overflowing with riches, populated by Amazons, griffons, cannibals, coprophagists, giants and amorous women, is an archetype as old as exploration itself. The strange and nearly universal propensity of European adventurers, chroniclers and map makers to describe and depict California as an island of exotic attributes, which persisted for two centuries after its discovery in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary, is the subject of this detailed and fascinating history of a particularly seductive idea.

Numerous reproductions of historical maps and extensive extracts from the literature of exploration richly convey a period of human history when Atlantis was as real as Acapulco. An interlude investigating the mysterious sources of the name "California" is one of the many treasures in this scholarly but briskly written volume. We find, through circuitous and unexpected routes, that the name is "connected to the Moslem world, to the Middle East and Africa as well as to Rome, Greece, and medieval Europe generally. By curious chance the reverberations and resonance fittingly symbolize the intercultural diversity which has characterized Californian society increasingly over the centuries."

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|