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California may have been named after a fictional island in a 16th-century Spanish romantic novel. That – and the elongated peninsula of Baja California – helps explain why early cartographers showed it as detached from the North American mainland. Even though expedition after expedition reported the misconception, an insular California clung to maps for as late as the 18th century – a triumph of wishful thinking over reality. Which is not a bad description of California as it is today.

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California may have been named after a fictional island in a 16th-century Spanish romantic novel. That – and the elongated peninsula of Baja California – helps explain why early cartographers showed it as detached from the North American mainland. Even though expedition after expedition reported the misconception, an insular California clung to maps for as late as the 18th century – a triumph of wishful thinking over reality. Which is not a bad description of California as it is today.

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