Book: California: On-the-Road-Histories by Victor Silverman and Laurie Glover
Interlink Books publishes hundreds of books that add depth to our travel. I have raved here before about their Traveller’s History (eg. this one on Italy) series, which capsulize the entire history of a country. So I looked forward to taking a look at the On-the-Road-Histories, a series that will eventually cover all 50 states. The publisher sent me a complementary copy of California: On the Road Histories, their most current volume in this series, for review.
This brick of a book contains a very thorough history of the state that equals the size of many countries. I particularly like that it does not ignore the first people who inhabited California, because although the Spanish history provides a fascinating period and many interesting sites to visit, Europeans were latecomers to the varied landscape of the state. Kudos also for telling the bad along with the good.
It is rare to read a history that is as entertaining as it is informative. The writers refuse to take themselves–or their subject–too seriously. Anyone who has driven through the desert community of Barstow, on the old Route 66, will chuckle at the following excerpt, although I’m sure the Chamber of Commerce is clamoring for an equal-time response. In a discussion of archaeological debates about the date of first residence in California, the book says:
” (Ruth) Simpson vigorously advocated the view that the stone chips were indeed tools created by people, but most other anthropologists disagreed, rejecting the idea that people came to Barstow so long ago. Why anyone would go there now is another story.”
I have no doubt that historians everywhere are throwing their hats in the air, celebrating the freedom these writers have taken to express their unvarnished opinion. Because although history is always, in the long run, personal opinion, the serious historian must disguise her facts as neutral and uphold the myth that what they are writing is fact.
The book includes small featurettes, set aside in colored blocks, on interesting people who might not otherwise make it into the main narrative, contemporary quotations, song lyrics, and other snippets of information. The authors have included fascinating historic pictures and reproductions of ads, articles, etc. to bring an immediacy to each of the periods they discuss.
What they do not include, however, are aids for someone who is actually ON the road, to put this knowledge of history to use. One road map in the beginning of the book provides only an overview of the state–a fold out map indicating historic sites would have been nice. I wished for more of an indication of where one might travel to visit historic sites woven into the narrative, or closely associated with particular chapters, rather than a brief list of museums, Native American sites, fairs and festivals and history web sites. Why did they choose to list five pages of Native American sites, and none of Spanish missions and other sites from that and other periods? Why did they choose not to include some indication of how to find the sites they do mention? The book lists information by county rather than by nearby highway (Ahem, this is an on the ROAD book, after all.) In essence, the impression is that the series (I assume all the books follow the same format) simply points the traveler at the web rather than providing useful travel information in the book.
Granted, this is meant as background reading rather than a guide book. Then, please, do not call in “On-the-Road.” I’m sorry that Interlink Books (whom I love dearly–and not just for contributing to Passports With Purpose) did not choose to include these books in their “Traveller’s History” series instead of implying there is something particularly suitable for road trips about the newer series.
Bottom line: If you are taking a trip to one of the states covered by On-The-Road-Histories (listed below), by all means visit Interlink Books and add that state’s history to your travel library. It will enhance your understanding of the state and amuse you in the bargain. Just don’t expect it to help when you are actually on the road.
Other On-the-Road Histories:
- New Hampshire
- South Carolina
Which of the Interlink On-the-Road Historiy states will be on your road-trip agenda for next year? We’re hoping for Alaska.
Note: All these pictures belong to me, some scanned from old print photos. If you would like to use any of these photos, please ask permission first.