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Names on the land : a historical account of place-naming in the United States / by George R. Stewart Hardcover – 1945


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Product Details

  • Hardcover
  • Publisher: New York : Random House [1945]; First Edition, 5th Printing edition (1945)
  • ASIN: B002C41E5C
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,982,369 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

An engaging, worthwhile, illuminating book.
Dan R. Dick
Behind every name there's a story and Stewart's tome is a staggering monument of scholarship.
zorba
Based on my reading so far, I can strongly recommend this book.
Peter M. Ronai

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

91 of 92 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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34 of 36 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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29 of 30 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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4 of 4 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 Emma Hardesty on May 13, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Highly readable and appealing, this history is no cutsey look at how places in the US got their names; it's a page-turner of intriguing detail, with appropriate respect for NA Indians. Mr Stewart touches on subjects as varied as the War Between the States, how Oklahoma got its name,the prevalent use of "-burgh' in the eastern sections,and "Noah Webster's spelling book." Find a copy of NAMES ON THE LAND if you have any interest in finding yet another clue as to how the US got to be the way it is today.
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