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Amerigo: The Man Who Gave His Name to Americaby Felipe Fernandez-Armesto
Synopses & Reviews
In 1507, European cartographers were struggling to redraw their maps of the world and to name the newly found lands of the Western Hemisphere. The name they settled on: America, after Amerigo Vespucci, an obscure Florentine explorer.
In Amerigo, the award-winning scholar Felipe Fernández-Armesto answers the question "What's in a name?" by delivering a rousing flesh-and-blood narrative of the life and times of Amerigo Vespucci. Here we meet Amerigo as he really was: a sometime slaver and small-time jewel trader; a contemporary, confidant, and rival of Columbus; an amateur sorcerer who attained fame and honor by dint of a series of disastrous failures and equally grand self-reinventions. Filled with well-informed insights and amazing anecdotes, this magisterial and compulsively readable account sweeps readers from Medicean Florence to the Sevillian court of Ferdinand and Isabella, then across the Atlantic of Columbus to the brave New World where fortune favored the bold.
Amerigo Vespucci emerges from these pages as an irresistible avatar for the age of exploration — and as a man of genuine achievement as a voyager and chronicler of discovery. A product of the Florentine Renaissance, Amerigo in many ways was like his native Florence at the turn of the sixteenth century: fast-paced, flashy, competitive, acquisitive, and violent. His ability to sell himself — evident now, 500 years later, as an entire hemisphere that he did not "discover" bears his name — was legendary. But as Fernández-Armesto ably demonstrates, there was indeed some fire to go with all the smoke: In addition to being a relentless salesman and possibly a ruthless appropriator of other people's efforts, Amerigo was foremost a person of unique abilities, courage, and cunning. And now, in Amerigo, this mercurial and elusive figure finally has a biography to do full justice to both the man and his remarkable era.
"In a dazzling new biography, noted historian Fernndez-Armesto (Columbus) captures the exploits of the now mostly forgotten adventurer for whom the New World was named — a man the author characterizes as a self-promoter lacking in talent and accomplishment. Born into a Florentine family, the young Amerigo Vespucci (1454 — 1512) entered the seagoing life to make his fortune; his earliest expeditions were in search of pearls. As a result of his later voyages, however, Vespucci presented himself as a celestial navigator and "master of the art of reading latitude and even longitude." As Fernndez-Armesto points out, Vespucci's own accounts of his voyages were largely colored by his readings, so that he exaggerated the physical beauty of the new worlds and the new peoples he encountered, and he promoted himself as an expert in cosmography when his skills were far more modest. Although Vespucci claimed to have navigated beyond the Pole Star and to have measured longitude by lunar distances, Fernndez-Armesto shows that these claims were false. But Vespucci promoted himself so well that mapmakers in 1507 chose to name America after him. Fernndez-Armesto weaves an elegant tale of Vespucci's ability to transform himself from a merchant into an explorer and conqueror of new worlds. (Aug. 7) " Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"'In a dazzling new biography, noted historian Fernndez-Armesto (Columbus) captures the exploits of the now mostly forgotten adventurer for whom the New World was named — a man the author characterizes as a self-promoter lacking in talent and accomplishment. Born into a Florentine family, the young Amerigo Vespucci (1454 — 1512) entered the seagoing life to make his fortune; his earliest expeditions were in search of pearls. As a result of his later voyages, however, Vespucci presented himself as a celestial navigator and 'master of the art of reading latitude and even longitude.' As Fernndez-Armesto points out, Vespucci's own accounts of his voyages were largely colored by his readings, so that he exaggerated the physical beauty of the new worlds and the new peoples he encountered, and he promoted himself as an expert in cosmography when his skills were far more modest. Although Vespucci claimed to have navigated beyond the Pole Star and to have measured longitude by lunar distances, Fernndez-Armesto shows that these claims were false. But Vespucci promoted himself so well that mapmakers in 1507 chose to name America after him. Fernndez-Armesto weaves an elegant tale of Vespucci's ability to transform himself from a merchant into an explorer and conqueror of new worlds. (Aug. 7) ' Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)"
"April 25, 2007, marked the 500th anniversary of an extraordinary event: the naming of America. The story of how it happened is a murky tale of intrepid seafarers and failed business ventures, naive scientists and greedy publishers, mendacity and spin. Above all, it is the fascinating tale of Amerigo Vespucci, a small-time Florentine trader with a talent for self-promotion who reinvented himself as... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) explorer and stargazer, and whose reputation has since become entangled in webs of myth. Felipe Fernandez-Armesto's eminently readable book carefully disentangles these webs to show the part Vespucci actually played in the story. Vespucci's background was modest, though the family did have connections with the powerful Medici clan that effectively ruled 15th-century Florence. The son of a notary who expected great things from his offspring, Vespucci was educated by humanists, studying Latin (not very successfully) and geography, then fashionable in Florentine academic circles, where classical treatises such as Ptolemy's 'Geographia' sparked a debate on the possibility of sailing across the Atlantic to reach the spice islands of the Indies. Vespucci was a disappointment to his father; despite his education, he chose trade, buying and selling gems for clients and operating more dubious sidelines in blackmail and pimping. His businesses failed to prosper, and by March 1492, Vespucci was in Seville, working for a fellow Florentine, Gianotto Berardi, one of the backers of Columbus' historic journey across the Atlantic. When Columbus returned in triumph in 1493, they secured the lucrative contract to supply the explorer's second fleet, but the expected profits failed to materialize, especially after the Spanish banned slave traffic in their new colonies. Berardi died suddenly in December 1495, entrusting his daughter to Columbus — and his debts to Vespucci. Still convinced that Columbus had reached the edge of the Indian Ocean, and that a fortune trading in gems and spices was his for the making, Vespucci joined an expedition in 1499 to explore pearl beds discovered by Columbus off the Venezuelan coast. This first trip was not a success. Nor was a second. So Vespucci devised another way of making money, transforming himself from luckless trader into a supposed expert on trans-Atlantic navigation and the lands across the sea. The first account of Vespucci's voyages, 'Mundus Novus' (New World), was published in Florence in 1504. Describing the horrors of the voyage, the ships saved only by his skill at celestial navigation and the exotic people he had seen, richly laced with salacious detail, this blockbuster was an instant success, reprinted 23 times in two years. In 1505, another book appeared, the 'Soderini Letter,' purporting to be by Vespucci and claiming him as the true discoverer of the New World. However, as Fernandez-Armesto shows, it was a cut-and-paste fake, designed to cash in on the enormous popularity of Vespucci's 'Mundus Novus.' The story next moves to the remote French town of St-Die, where a group of enthusiastic geographers, working under the patronage of the Duke of Lorraine, were preparing a new edition of Ptolemy's 'Geographia.' In early 1507, they received the text of the 'Soderini Letter,' now addressed by Vespucci to the duke, and decided to incorporate it into their work, the typesetting of which was completed on April 25, 1507. On their huge world map, emblazoned over what is now Brazil, was the continent's new name, America, honoring the man they assumed was the author of the 'Soderini Letter.' The hapless geographers soon realized their mistake, but it was too late: Their work also became a best-seller, and the name stuck. Fernandez-Armesto, a history professor at Tufts University, tells this complicated story with verve and skill, likening his own journey through its facts, forgeries, myths and prejudices to Vespucci's voyage of discovery. His lively style is effective in evoking the flashy and violent world of Renaissance Europe, and his wide-ranging knowledge of the period illuminates the boundaries of the Eurocentric mindset as it attempted to come to terms with a New World. Mary Hollingsworth is the author of 'The Cardinal's Hat: Money, Ambition and Everyday Life in the Court of a Borgia Prince.'" Reviewed by Luz LazoTina McElroy AnsaMary Hollingsworth, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"An outstanding historian of Atlantic exploration, Fernández-Armesto delves into the oddities of cultural transmission that attached the name America to the continents discovered in the 1490s. Most know that it honors Amerigo Vespucci, whom the author introduces as an amazing Renaissance character independent of his name's fame — and does Fernández-Armesto ever deliver." Booklist (Starred Review)
A groundbreaking history of the entire Western Hemisphere, from prehistory to the present, is delivered by one of the world's most exciting historians. 4 maps.
A groundbreaking biography of the man who gave his name to America, "Amerigo" is delivered by one of the worlds most exciting historians who spins a grand narrative full of character and story. 4 maps.
In this groundbreaking work, leading historian Felipe Fernandez-Armesto tells the story of our hemisphere as a whole, showing why it is impossible to understand North, Central, and South America in isolation without turning to the intertwining forces that shape the region. With imagination, thematic breadth, and his trademark wit, Fernandez-Armesto covers a range of cultural, political, and social subjects, taking us from the dawn of human migration to North America to the Colonial and Independence periods to the American Century and beyond. Fernandez-Armesto does nothing less than revise the conventional wisdom about cross-cultural exchange, conflict, and interaction, making and supporting some brilliantly provocative conclusions about the Americas' past and where we are headed.
About the Author
Felipe Fernández-Armesto, the Prince of Asturias Professor of History at Tufts University, is the author of several books, including The Americas, Millennium, Columbus, and Near a Thousand Tables: A History of Food. He is the recipient of many honors and awards, including the Cairo Medal, the John Carter Brown Medal, and the Premio Nacional de Investigación of Spain's Sociedad Geográfica Española. His work has appeared in twenty-four languages, and his journalism and broadcasts appear frequently in Spanish and British media.
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