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Amerigo: The Man Who Gave His Name to…
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Amerigo: The Man Who Gave His Name to America

by Felipe Fernández-Armesto

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I listened to the audiobook version of this read by Michael Prichard. It is dreary experience. The book is full of facts but the author writes that most are hard to prove due to little evidence about Amerigo. The narrator is incredibly boring to listen to. He doesn't seem to put any interest into what he's reading. He also narrated Les Standifords book, "Washington Burning: How a Frenchman's Vision of Our Nations Capital Survived Congress, the Founding Fathers and the Invading British Army." I couldn't finish Standifords audiobook as Prichard was so boring and monotonous with it. I will look for the book itself of "Amerigo" as I think I'd enjoy it more. ( )
  Arkrayder | Apr 22, 2016 |
No book on Vespucci is easy given his complicated and poorly documented life and explorations. Unfortunately, the author adds to the difficulty with a writing style that is overly academic and stilted. 30% of the work is devoted to the inner workings of life in early 16th century Florence and Seville, including unnecessarily detailed discussions of the Medici clan. While this background is helpful for an appreciation of both to whom and why Vespucci wrote some of his letters, one simple chapter would have sufficed. As another example, the author includes many references to persons of that period with no real importance to the work, other than perhaps to demonstrate the author's breadth of knowledge.

On the positive, the author's skeptical analysis of various claims and voyages by Vespucci is helpful, although a more concise writing style would have afforded more clarity.

Not recommended for the casual reader looking for an introduction into Vespucci's fascinating life. ( )
  la2bkk | Jul 28, 2015 |
Interesting as being a life of a man of whom most people know nothing but his name. This author also did a good book on Columbus. ( )
  antiquary | Sep 3, 2014 |
"Amerigo Vespucci, who gave his name to America, was a pimp in his youth and a magus in his maturity," writes Felipe Fernández-Armesto His subject is reminiscent of Melville's confidence man, a figure of protean energy and inventiveness, a Florentine operator constantly on the make and adept at the makeover. He is a startlingly contemporary personality, and so it is no wonder that the title of this biography puts us all on a first name basis with him.

Part of a n'er-do-well clan, Vespucci got his start working for the Medicis in Florence. Although previous biographers have assumed his early profession as a procurer of women and jewels signaled his close connection with the Medicis, his most recent biographer is skeptical. Lorenzo the Magnificent did not send his best boys to backwaters such as Seville. "Perhaps this is the moment to risk a speculation," Mr. Fernández-Armesto writes. Amerigo himself may have taken the initiative, desperate to cut loose from a dependent family and make his fortune.

Vespucci emerges in this witty biography as our hero, a picaresque merchant who goes broke backing Columbus's voyages and then decides to become an explorer himself, setting out in 1499 after his more famous predecessor was generally acknowledged to have failed to make good on his promises: No huge caches of gold, no pathway to Asia, no benign natives, and no paradisal climates.

Amerigo's two voyages brought him no significant riches but rather a wealth of stories about exotic lands and a whole new continent. So he wrote it all up. Lots of it was hooey, but some of it was based on personal observation. And Amerigo's reputation as a navigator, acquired through on-the-job training, grew. He put his name on maps, starting with a Florentine publication in 1504 that would go through 23 printings, describing harrowing adventures and miraculous escapes.

Other geographers, thrilled by Amerigo's accounts, published a huge map in 1507 with his name emblazoned on what is today Brazil. Oops! They soon realized that Vespucci had laid claim to too much. But without CNN and the 24-hour news cycle, it was too late. And so we all became Amerigonians.

Mr. Fernández-Armesto obviously relishes his subject's prevarications and those gullible followers who made so much of a name. In his retelling, history becomes a bit of a farce when it is not obscured by "romantic illusions." Even familiar concepts like the Renaissance get a drubbing. Sounding like the Senator Ted Stevens of biography, Mr. Fernández-Armesto shouts:

"It inaugurated modern times." No: Every generation has its own modernity, which grows out of the whole of the past. "It was revolutionary." No: Scholarship has detected half a dozen prior renaissances. … "It was art for art's sake." No: It was manipulated by plutocrats and politicians.

And there is much more to the list of no's in this iconoclastic, irreverent, but also superbly researched portrayal of a subject gifted at getting history to take him at his word.

We live in a country named by mistake. But to get the joke, you have to accept this biographer's shrewd research. ( )
  carl.rollyson | Aug 31, 2012 |
In this book we learn of the mediocre Amerigo Vespucci who was at the right place at the right time in History to have a hemisphere named after him. Not much has ever been known of things man and this book, though shedding some light, confirms that this figure of history will not have a detailed biography written about him. The author does his best to explore the Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci life with all available references that could be found. The author describes Vespucci's various careers as jewel trader, navigator, cosmographer, and author. We read of Amerigo's business endeavors in the New World and his rivalry with Columbus. More importantly this biography document's Vespucci's lack of accomplishments and his knack for self -promotion. ( )
  mramos | Feb 7, 2010 |
Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
Fernández-Armesto’s previous books about world history and exploration — “The Americas,” “Civilizations” and “Pathfinders,” among them — are must reading in these globally minded times. But even a historian of Fernández-Armesto’s learning and reach might have chosen to ignore the fact that 2007 marks the 500th anniversary of the naming of America. Except for a few brief narratives and letters, the record is maddeningly slight when it comes to Vespucci. But “Amerigo: The Man Who Gave His Name to America” is much more than an occasional throwaway. Using the bare bones of what is known about Vespucci to expatiate on subjects as diverse as the brutal world of Renaissance Italy, the importance of trade winds to world history and the poetics of travel writing, Fernández-Armesto has written a provocative primer on how navigators like Columbus and Vespucci set loose the cultural storm that eventually created the world we live in today.
 
Fernández-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.
 
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"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, scholar Felipe Fernandez-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 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, five hundred years later, as an entire hemisphere that he did not "discover" bears his name - was legendary. But as Fernandez-Armesto 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."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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