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Names on the Land: A Historical Account of Place-Naming in the United States (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback


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Names on the Land: A Historical Account of Place-Naming in the United States (New York Review Books Classics) + How the States Got Their Shapes + Lost States: True Stories of Texlahoma, Transylvania, and Other States That Never Made It
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Product Details

  • Series: New York Review Books Classics
  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics; Trade Paperback Edition edition (July 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590172736
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590172735
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.1 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #192,035 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"It chronicles the nomenclatural adventures of explorers, legislators, and common folk and amounts to a fizzy refresher on America's past and her character. It proceeds in a spruce voice that's a model for producing scholarship that doesn't feel leaden, and it further inspires meditations on tricks of rhetoric and laws of euphony...Perhaps most importantly, it is an aid to fighting tedium: You are about to have several hundred conversations touching on the matter of where your interlocutor is from, and Steward gives you a map for navigating this chatter with a bit of style." --Troy Patterson, Slate

"George R. Stewart, midcentury novelist and co-founder of the American Name Society, gave onomastics a good name with his classic Names on the Land (1945), a learned and rollicking act of patriotic toponymy. Its republication, with a graceful introduction by Matt Weiland, is a welcome reminder that the polyglot medley on our maps is, as Mr. Stewart says, 'a chief glory of our heritage'...few authors or books are more American--in every good sense of that word -- than George R. Stewart and Names on the Land." --Wall Street Journal

 

"Stewart's impressive research demonstrates exactly what is in a name." --The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

 

"If the United States is the greatest poem, as Whitman once wrote, then surely the Rand-McNally Road Atlas is our national CliffsNotes. Google Maps are dandy, but there’s nothing like pulling the old coverless atlas off the shelf and pondering a green-dotted scenic route between two unvisited and evocatively named points. It’s too late to plan a summer road trip, but lately I’ve been supplementing my insomniac atlas-reading with George R. Stewart’s Names on the Land: A Historical Account of Place-Naming in the United States.” --Jennifer Schuessler, The New York Times Papercuts blog

 

"Names on the Land was first published in 1945 and has remained a classic in the field of onomastics--the study of proper names and their meanings." --Los Angeles Times

 

A "masterwork." --Minneapolis Star-Tribune

 

"A classic work on American place names by George R. Stewart. I'm a place-name geek but didn't know about this gem until I read the book recently. First published in 1945 and newly reissued (NYRB Classics) it's a history of the United States told through its place names. Stewart exhaustively surveys our geographic labels, a chaotic but charming blend of anglicized American Indian words (Wisconsin), transplanted place names (Boston), poetic impulse (Martha's Vineyard), twisted foreign phrases (Broadway, from the Dutch Breede Wegh) and salesmanship (Frostproof, Fla)." --Columbus Dispatch

 

"You've likely heard me before on the lost-classic glories of New York Review Books, and this is a reprint of a typically idiosyncratic and cult-beloved World War II-era reference about just what the title says." --OMNIVORACIOUS at Amazon.com

 

"Unusual and excellent...put together in a fascinating manner...The style is also enchanting and leaves an impression that is not quickly forgotten...Here is a book, in short, that may be read frontwards or backwards or from the middle in either direction and be fully enjoyed." -American Speech

 

"As fascinating as the details are the fine accounts of periods and trends: the Royal names of colonial times, the names of heroes of the Revolution, abstract names and the Civil War...Indian names, French names, Spanish names, name-giving by Congress, name-giving by explorers and pioneers, by land-speculators, by railroaders, by rich men, poor men, beggar men, all acting according to the spirit of their times in this wonderful land of accelerated history." -American Literature.

 

"The result of careful research into an absorbing narrative...Interest of Americans in American geographical names as a subject for research is at least as old as our history as a republic." -Geographical Review

 

Encyclopedic in scope, "this book with its satisfactory index will be used as a dictionary. And the disappointment of occasionally not finding what one seeks will be assuaged by the illuminating charm of this remarkable key to our history, our language, our society."

-American Literature

 

"A book so interestingly and delightfully written is certain to have wide appeal...Like all really good books, regardless of subject, it has light to cast: something of which there seems to be never enough to go around." -Journal of American Folkore

About the Author

George R. Stewart (1895—1980) was born in Pennsylvania and educated at Princeton. He received his Ph.D. in English literature from Columbia University in 1922, and joined the English faculty at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1924. He was a toponymist, founding member of the American Name Society, and a prolific and highly successful writer of novels and of popular nonfiction, especially dealing with U.S. history and with the American West.

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Customer Reviews

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An engaging, worthwhile, illuminating book.
Dan R. Dick
Anyone that is interested or works with geography (especially historians or natural scientists) will find this book a very powerful perspective.
Curtis Price
I'll join everyone else in saying this book is fascinating.
kestrel

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

90 of 91 people found the following review helpful By absent_minded_prof on December 18, 2002
Format: Paperback
In this unusual little book, George R. Stewart has compiled an endlessly intriguing account of the whys and wherefores of American place-names. The book as a whole provides a haunting, curiously oblique perspective on American history, as he delves into the cultural, historic, and (sometimes) military themes behind the names we use every day. The book goes into the names of cities, states, rivers, mountains, streets, and more.
I think you might get more out of this volume if you are aware of the way it is organized. I myself half-expected this book to be organized by state, perhaps in alphabetical order. This is not the case. Stewart has organized his data by THEMES in naming, and how these themes have emerged in our history. Therefore, the book (very roughly) follows our history chronologically, as various naming trends have come and gone, in the context of various cultural waves. This pattern tends to approximately follow the "peopling" of the continent (by descendants of Europeans) from east to west. Some chapters are mostly devoted to single states, but this is the exception, rather than the rule.
The chapter titles are not necessarily always very helpful, which is the closest thing I have to a caveat about this book. I'm telling you right now that the chapters roughly follow the settling of our continent, from east to west (and from south to north in the far western states). So, this should help you get oriented if you are browsing around... You might want to think of each chapter as a little independent essay. That might help you break the whole text down into digestible parts.
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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Curtis Price on July 30, 2001
Format: Paperback
Names On The Land is narrative almost to a fault but it is a FASCINATING exploration into how and why we name the landscape, and how as we name the land, we give it meaning, just as the landscape give meaning to us.
Anyone that is interested or works with geography (especially historians or natural scientists) will find this book a very powerful perspective.
A very cool book. I think it is a shame it is out of print!
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33 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Merl Ledford III on September 8, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Wallace Stegner was not only a great writer ("Angle of Repose") and teacher (Stanford English Dept. who mentored people like Harriet Doerr), he was also a great lover of writing. His UC Berkeley colleague and friend George Stewart appeared on Stegner's list of "must read" Western American writers for "Names on the Land" as classic non-fiction and for fiction ("Earth Abides" that he recommends as reading in tandem with Miller's classic "A Canticle for Leibowitz").

Dr. Stegner points out that Stewart was not prolific as a writer and, for that reason, is sometimes overlooked as a star in Western American literature. "Names on the Land" underscores the painstaking process of good writing as it was practiced by Stewart and very much appreciated by Stegner. The research is incredibly precise and reliable; the language is as clear and fast running as a mountain stream; and the effect on the reader is overwhelming.

In an era of instant gratification and 10 second sound bites, "Names on the Land" doesn't seem "contemporary." But for a thoughtful reader of books, Stewart's masterpiece merits a place of honor in his or her permanent collection and (as Stegner admitted) a lifetime of periodic re-reading and reference.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By kestrel on March 5, 2010
Format: Paperback
I'll join everyone else in saying this book is fascinating. Stewart's prose is strong and easy on the eye, the kind of informative and engaging writing John McPhee does so well. In fact I'd compare it to McPhee's Annals of the Former World. Stewart does for geography what McPhee does for geology.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By D. Summerfield on September 15, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I learned so much from this book. When I purchased it, I thought it might be like an annotated dictionary of sorts -- perhaps in alphabetical order, so that I could look up Topeka or New York. But it's not like that at all. The author starts with the blank canvas of the American landscape, before recorded history, and describes how a place becomes a name.

The book is arranged chronologically, so the reader moves from pre-history to native Americans to colonists; and from the edges of the country (like Florida, California and New Mexico) to the middle regions; and from colonial governmental debates on names to the Congressional debates on state names in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The information about the place names comes at the reader not as a dry history lesson, but almost as an epic novel in which the main character is the landscape, and the minor characters are the natives, the immigrants, the politicians, the storytellers. The prose is spare and compelling. The depth of research is mind-boggling.

This is a book to be read, re-read and referred to for the rest of your life, especially if you are a traveller or a proud American.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Peter M. Ronai on August 11, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
So far I'm only about 1/3 of the way through "Names on the Land," but I'm enthralled. The sub-title, "A Historical Account of Place Naming..." is right on. The book approaches it subject from a historical perspective. The reader travels with the early explorers as they encounter landmarks on their journeys, so one learns about the namers and their times, as well as about the names they left behind them. Based on my reading so far, I can strongly recommend this book.
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