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Book Review, NRJ 58.4

November 15, 2013 12:00 PM | David Eddy

From Guiding Lights to Beacons for Business: The Many Lives of Maine’s Lighthouses

Richard Cheek

From the moment one’s hand touches this book, one begins an adventure of tactile and visual uniqueness. The pages are extra thick, making the reader examine each one when turning it, to be sure two are not stuck together. There is a certain glossiness to the paper that catches one’s attention as well. Colors are more intense, making panoramas more real to the senses.

Essentially, this is a collection of ten essays about lighthouses along the coast of Maine. Readers will find a range of images from architect's plans, to historic photos, to modern pictures. Cheek has positioned each essay to carry the reader through the histories of selected Maine lighthouses, while displaying hundreds of ways in which these historic structures have been used in the world's marketplace.

Many hundreds of bright, colorful images are highlighted by the ten essays. Readers are entertained by the collection of historic and contemporary views of all things "lighthouse" while being introduced to the alluring stories from Maine's own maritime history. The various writers have truly searched the oceans and the continents to bring together such a superlative group of images to accompany these essays. They are not just pictures of the lights, these images are of covers from famous novels, front pages of newspapers, postcards, matchbooks, sheet music, magazine covers, an uncountable amount of advertising, art from famous painters, road maps, coffee tins, liquor bottles, shoe boxes, and insurance company advertisements. As the reader works through the fascinating essays, he or she is continually exposed to an extraordinary array of manufactured goods, souvenir items, patriotic material, and promotional prints which, taken as a whole, are quite pleasantly overwhelming. One is astonished to see that so much has come from our national love of lighthouses, that so very many products have reached the American consumer through use of the lighthouse as a sales tool, and as a national symbol.

Readers will find a rich resource of links and references in the back of the book which can lead one to a wide range of source material on each of the photographs. There is also a superlative section of notes which provide a wealth of additional information. A traditional reference section will provide supportive readings, and the editor has also provided a standard index section to help locating specific topics.

Books of this type are familiar to us as "coffee table books." They are specimens of the exotic places to which we have been, or places we imagine we will visit someday. In other venues they are seen as "trophy editions" or "hotel collections," placed in waiting rooms or in lobbies of grand hotels so that patrons can share in the adventures they portray. They are designed to be evocative and exciting in their subject matter, and in the quality of their materials. They impart a weightiness to the viewer, saying, in as much, that the people here have command of these resources, that they have been to these places and move in high social strata, that they expect to be treated with deference and good manners, that business conducted here is serious. Along with that, trophy edition books can be great books to simply fill one's time.

There is something in lighthouses that all Americans share in their genetic heritage. With Guiding Lights, Cheek has done justice to every facet of the genre. It is a thoroughly enjoyable book to browse and to own. This is a book for "old salts", and "Down-Easters", and for anyone with a love of the sea in their hearts.

  • Boston: Historic New England, 2012
  • 8-1/4” x 11”, softcover, 240 pages
  • Illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. $34.95
  • ISBN: 9780884483380
  • Distributed by Tilbury House, Publishers, Gardiner, Maine

Reviewed by Bob Rutledge, University of West Florida

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