Skip to main content Skip to search Skip to search

History Civilization


How Islands Transform the World

by (author) J. Edward Chamberlin

Cormorant Books
Initial publish date
Sep 2013
Civilization, Human Geography, Expeditions & Discoveries, Oceans & Seas
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2013
    List Price

Add it to your shelf

Where to buy it


Ever since humans have been travelling and telling tales, we have been fascinated by islands. Creation stories around the world speak of land rising out of the water, of islands beginning on the backs of turtles or as a result of the ingenuity of birds. The tradition continues into the modern era: from Noah to Prospero and Gulliver, from Ulysses to Robinson Crusoe and Anne of Green Gables, islands have fuelled the dreams of our storytellers.


Much of what makes islands so compelling are the natural forces that shape them: geological processes that wrench land up from the ocean floor, evolutionary shifts that cause naked rock to bloom with unique flora and fauna. These forces too have inspired explorers, scientists, settlers, sailors, and artists.


J. Edward Chamberlin draws on history, literature, art, anthropology, biology, and geology, to create a compelling and accessible exploration of the impact islands have made on human history. He has also written a poignant and powerful reminder of who and where we are: castaways, on our own island in space.

About the author

J. Edward Chamberlin was born in Vancouver, and educated at the universities of British Columbia, Oxford, and Toronto. He was Senior Research Associate with the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples and Poetry Editor of Saturday Night magazine, and has lectured widely on literary, historical and cultural issues. His books include Come Back To Me My Language: Poetry and the West Indies (1993); If This Is Your Land, Where Are Your Stories? Finding Common Ground (2003), which was nominated for the Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction; and the best-seller, Horse: How the Horse Has Shaped Civilizations (2006). He lives with his wife, the Jamaican poet Lorna Goodison, in Halfmoon Bay, British Columbia.

J. Edward Chamberlin's profile page

Editorial Reviews

“A delightful, enlightening book that employs islands as jumping-off points for essays on a wide range of topics … takes readers on a mind-expanding journey.”

Kirkus Reviews

“A fascinating exploration and addition to the annals of maritime history … churns with all sorts of information … will appeal to the national geographer, ocean explorer and traveler.”

Portland Book Review

“A compact but dense study of ocean islands from cultural, biological, geological, literary, and historical perspectives. There is much interesting information in this small volume … The wealth of fascinating detail makes for an instructive and entertaining read.”

Historical Novel Society

“An extremely pleasant read … as you’d hope with a book of this kind, there are serendipitous delights … Chamberlin’s anthropological expertise is not in doubt, and the currents of his prose are lively.”

The Spectator

“This well-crafted study … cites the conflict in human history between the impulse to settle down and the impulse to dream about other places… the best parts of Island are the oddities served up for our delectation by nature and history.”

National Post

Other titles by J. Edward Chamberlin