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The Fourth Part of the World: The Race to…

The Fourth Part of the World: The Race to the Ends of the Earth, and the…

by Toby Lester

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490933,563 (4.09)21
A chronicle of the early sixteenth-century creation of the Waldseemüller map offers insight into how monks, classicists, merchants, and other contributors from earlier periods shaped the map's creation.

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Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
The librarian who put this book on the 'discard-for sale' shelf should be fired, but the library's loss was my gain--for US$1 I acquired one of the most fascinating and readable discoveries that will never leave my library shelves. As other reviewers have noted, this is far more than a history of the first map to specify 'America' and credit Amerigo Vespucci with its discovery (and I would heartily recommend a title change when the book is reprinted, which I am sure it will be). It covers more than the history of early exploration and map-making; the great explorers of Spain, Portugal and Italy; the early philosophers and cartographers (Ptolemy, Strabo); the emergence of the printing press and its role in spreading a new world of enquiry that would develop into the a great humanist movement; the politics and compromises of competing nations and explorers. All of these are interwoven into a rich, wondrous tale that is full of fascinating insights into the age. Everyone (I hope) knows the story of Bartholomeu Dias and his rounding the Cape of Good Hope in 1488, but how many of us knew that he was the Portuguese captain lying at anchor off the coast of Portugal who spotting a Spanish ship in its waters, boarded the ship to challenge its presence ... to encounter Christopher Columbus, returning from his first trip to the Indies! Every school teacher of history and geography needs to read this book to understand how the subject of geography should be taught--not as the names of rivers and mountains and crops, but as a vast net of exploration, enquiry, coincidences, hard work, disappointments, happenstance, perseverance and at times just blind luck.

I am a lover of global history with a special interest in Asia (and early maps), but anyone who recalls even the remotest bits of their early childhood education will find this book an exciting intellectual upgrade that pays off. It not only asks the questions we were usually too slothful to ask (primarily, "Why?") but entices us into opening atlases, pulling other reference works off the shelves, or reflecting on long-forgotten topics (how was the longitude problem resolved?). A special thanks as well to author Lester, for including the little linguistic asides that share with readers the reason we talk of finding our way as 'orienting ourselves' (because in medieval Europe, "East represented the origin of things", p. 32)--which is why East was placed at the top of ancient maps rather than North; or the clever 'joke' within the name 'America'; or why we speak of "spheres of influence" (p. 102).

This is the single best book I have ever found that covers the history of early global maps, early European thought, exploration, and the men (where were the women?) who were its key movers. Well researched and beautifully written, it's a page-turner. I loved every page of it and when I finished, I turned to the beginning and began reading it all over again.
( )
  pbjwelch | Jul 25, 2017 |
Received as an ARC a while ago, but I've only just had time to start something so long. So far, so good.


"The fourth part of the world" is America, and the occasion of the LOC's purchase of a map occasioned its writing. Lester is a good writer and keeps the information flowing. ( )
  OshoOsho | Mar 30, 2013 |
This book was extremely interesting and I couldn't put it down. When it was over I found myself wanting to read more and have the rest of the history of the Americas mapped.

I was thinking for a minute of what else I can say about this book but there isn't anymore I need to add, there's nothing else to say, it's just that good a book. ( )
  RockStarNinja | Mar 25, 2012 |
So much more than a story about a map. Or so much more of a story than you thought a map could tell. I'll have to go see the real thing at the Library of Congress sooner rather than later. ( )
  DirkHurst | Jul 31, 2010 |
Very informative book, filled with details (which I like!). Tells of the beginning of mass produced maps, which also corresponds to when North America is discovered. Very well written. - Greg
Interesting but overly detailed - Rich ( )
  wolffamily | Jul 4, 2010 |
Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
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The earth is placed in the central region of the cosmos, standing fast in the center, equidistant from all other parts of the sky . . . . It is divided into three parts, one of which is called Asia, the second Europe, the third Africa . . . . Apart from these three parts of the world there exists a fourth part, beyond the ocean, which is unknown to us.--Isidore of Seville, Etymologies (circa A.D. 600)
To the four parts of my little world: Catherine, Emma, Kate, and Sage
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Old maps lead you to strange and unexpected places, and none does so more ineluctably than the subject of this book: the giant, beguiling Waldseemüller world map of 1507.
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