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02 June, 2009

Book Review: Lighthouses of the Golden State: Calafornia's Majestic Beacons by Kent Wymouth

Lighthouses. Their name evokes romantic images of tall wave swept towers. Flashing beacons of intense light across stormy seas to guide tall ships to safety. But unknown to people in these days of GPS navigation, lighthouses still hold an important function for traveling ships. The state of California with it’s rocky and foggy coasts is a perfect location for lighthouses in many forms.

In 1848, with the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill, a rush of people flowed into California. The promise of untold riches waiting to be found drew in men from every part of the globe. During their travels, the coast of California and the waters surrounding it were unexplored and dangerous territory to travel through. But as ship travel was the quickest way to the gold fields of San Francisco many ships braved these dangerous and tricky coast lines.

In 1852 the Lighthouse Board was formed. Its goal was to protect the many ships traveling the Californian coasts. This was the start of building many magnificent structures along the coastline. An effort that would result in California having forty three lighthouses built along it’s coastline over the many years. These lighthouses, manned by brave men and women would protect the ships carrying the commerce, supplies, and people that would build the West.

Lighthouses of the Golden State is an impressive book. Author Kent Wymouth spent five years researching letters, diaries, and original documents, as well as visiting every existing structure in the state. The result is an extremely informative yet deceptively slim book. This book explores the forty three lighthouses that have been built in the state since 1852. The author shares the history of each lighthouse, along with a description of how the lighthouse ran, why each lighthouse was built and other informative points of interests such as what type of lens was placed in each lighthouse. Also, each entry has a photo of the lighthouse being discussed. Lighthouses of the Golden State is an extremely thorough chronicle of California’s waterways covering over one hundred years of history.

I’ve been interested in lighthouses since I first saw one of the lighthouses along the shores of Lake Michigan as a child. However, I am not an enthusiast, well versed in the history behind these structures. As such I found Lighthouses of the Golden State an extremely informative book that didn’t overwhelm me with unknown terms. But on the other hand, I can see this book being a great reference for the lighthouse enthusiast, as well as visitors to California’s coasts that might like to try and visit some of the structures. I very much enjoyed the book. It gave me a look at a coastline I’ve yet to visit myself, and left me wanting to see some of these magnificent structures that helped shape California’s waterways and history myself one day.