In 1983 Florida governor Bob Graham requested the marking of Hernando de Soto’s route through Florida (1539-43). The scholarly committee assembled to reify and legitimate the chosen route, which included Jerald Milanich and Charles Hudson, warned emphatically that the route was not known with certainty, and that any conclusions the committee drew would be provisional.

Ten years later the route is marked, and this book charts the authors’ efforts to identify it. Their account consists of a minute examination of many alternative routes and an inventory of every archaeological site that might aid in reconstructing the main one. It is ostensibly about Hernando de Soto’s trip through Florida, but its more serious purpose is to reconstruct the political geography of Florida’s Indian world as de Soto found it. To this end the authors draw not only on accounts of de Soto’s expedition, but also on French and Spanish evidence from the later sixteenth century for areas of Florida de Soto did not visit.

The book is therefore full of information, but very difficult to follow for anyone with little or no local knowledge. The maps are helpful as far as they go, but there are not enough of them; and the many enlarged details from sixteenth-century and later historical maps are not accompanied by insets to show how they relate to the region discussed in the text. In light of the importance of the Indian story, this reviewer particularly missed the inclusion of a map showing the true extent of the archaeological cultures vital to any discussion of the Indian world of 1539.

Historians will have a problem with the quality of historical evidence and the distance it has been taken here beyond what it can really support. In pursuit of certainty, the authors have frequently exploited the historiographically weakest of the expedition accounts, Garcilaso’s Florida, for circumstantial descriptions of Indians and their lifeways, in spite of serious internal contradictions and intertextual discrepancies. Several times Garcilaso leads the authors themselves to make contradictory statements, though to what degree this is disingenuous is hard to determine. The nub of the difficulty is the apparent requirement for concrete identifications, which lures the authors rhetorically to refer to every identification as certain, no matter how fenced in caveats it originally was. A little less certainty and a little more source criticism would have served the scholarly community better.