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1494: How a Family Feud in Medieval Spain Divided the World in Half Hardcover – 14 Feb 2012

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 292 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books (14 Feb. 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312616120
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312616120
  • Product Dimensions: 16.4 x 2.9 x 24.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,378,533 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

My book Scurvy: How a Surgeon, a Mariner and a Gentleman Solved the Greatest Medical Mystery of the Age of Sail was an international critical success and was selected as one of the Globe and Mail's Top 100 books of 2004. My next book A Most Damnable Invention: Dynamite, Nitrates and the Making of the Modern World, was included in the Scientific American Book Club, the History Book Club and the Quality Paperback Book Club as well as being shortlisted for two awards. My most recent book, Madness, Betrayal and the Lash: The Epic Voyage of Captain George Vancouver, was shortlisted for the Canadian Authors' Association's Lela Common Award for History and won the 2009 B.C. Booksellers' Choice Award in Honour of Bill Duthie.

Merchant Kings: When Companies Ruled the World is published in Canada in the fall of 2009 to excellent reviews, including one from Timothy Brook, historian and author of Vermeer's Hat, and will be published in the Unites States and the UK in the spring of 2010. I'm very excited about the UK publication of Merchant Kings, as it will be only my second book published here.

I live in a smaller town in the Rocky Mountains with my wife Nicky and two children. When I'm not writing I'm usually reading, mountain biking, hiking and camping in the summer, and downhill and cross country skiing in the winter.

My author website is: for news and complete list of reviews.

Product Description

1494 The author of "Merchant Kings" reveals the untold story of how a personal struggle between queens and kings, churchmen and explorers split the globe between Spain and Portugal and made the world's oceans a battleground. Full description

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Keen Reader TOP 50 REVIEWER on 22 May 2013
Format: Hardcover
Spain and Portugal, fighting for the rights to the world's oceans, as a result of both countries expanding their naval and seagoing capabilities, fall to bitter argument after Columbus returns to Spain in 1493, having `discovered' a new world that both countries would give their eye teeth for. Not only that, but the Portuguese have finally managed to sail around the Cape and direct to India and the Spice Islands, a dream of expansion in which the name of Henry the Navigator features largely. So, the Pope negotiated the Treaty of Tordesillas of 1494, which divided the entire known (and hitherto unknown) world between Spain and Portugal, more or less evenly. But if anyone thought that would be an end of the squabbling, they were very much mistaken. Because nobody told England, France and the Dutch Republic that they couldn't join in the endeavour as well.

An interesting book, and written in a way that would readily engage someone who was not perhaps familiar with much of the political, cultural and military history of the times. This book skilfully weaves together a narrative that encompasses the later medieval history of Castile, Aragon and Portugal, Portugese and Spanish attempts to claim the `unknown world' of the Atlantic and beyond, the discoveries of Christopher Columbus, papal intrigues and particular those of Rodrigo Borgia and his notorious family, and the aftermath of these momentous times. It's not often that a book will endeavour to take that much upon itself, and the result, while not strictly scholarly, is very readable and enjoyable. It offers a new `global' perspective on topics that are, more often than not, discussed in isolation. Highly recommended.
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1 of 5 people found the following review helpful By David J. Glazier on 15 Mar. 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Delivery of this item took a long time and furthermore the book is very expensive for what it is. For a student of the epoch and the circumstances described there is very little new in its contents.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 15 reviews
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Interesting and highly readable 21 May 2012
By bekeenee - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Isabella, Ferdinand, the Borgias, Columbus, Magellan and Sir Francis Drake are just a few of the characters you will recognize; and there are many more that we all should know.

As a frequent traveler to Spain and Portugal, I found the book very interesting. Mr Brown knit together the numerous threads of this story very well. This highly readable historical book gives enough to inform, without weighing it down with too much detail. While I was familiar with parts of the story, Mr Brown placed it in a different context and filled in the necessary details and included the "flesh and blood" motives.

A previous reviewer, a self-described"student of the epoch", missed the point when he criticized the book for presenting "nothing new." Mr Brown states that his book presents a diffent way to look at the topic and not an indepth history of one facet of the story. For those who want more he provides a bibliography and reading list for further research.

I highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to understand a bit more about how Spain and Portugal developed such wealthy empires, how they lost them, and what their legacy is in the world today.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
An interesting but meandering tour of the founding of the Spanish and Portuguese Empires 13 Jun. 2012
By Observer - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This is a strange book. The title and subtitle, 1494 and "How a Family Feud in Medieval Spain Divided the World in Half" fail to describe what the book is really about. I have given it 3 stars primarily because it prompted me to learn more about Hugo Grotius, the Dutch lawyer and polymath who contributed mightily to the initial International Law of the Sea via his opposition to the tenets of the Treaty of Tordesillas.
The book does a reasonable job covering the basics of the early journeys of exploration of Africa and the Americas. Its biggest strength is the teasing out of the implications of the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas, which essentially divided trading, navigation, exploitation and colonizing rights in Africa, India, SE Asia and what would become the Americas between Spain and Portugal to the exclusion of other European powers. However, the author takes the reader on a long meandering journey - some of it interesting, much of it prosaic. Finally, we arrive at what might be fresh ground, namely, the seeds of International Law based on the efforts of Grotius to void the Treaty and legitimate the predatory practices of among others his employers, the Dutch East India Company or VOC. Alas, in trying to cover two hundred years from the initial need for the Treaty to Grotius' reframing of the underlying issues, the author gets somewhat lost. To a degree, this is not surprising because religious, political and commercial interests that drove the primary actors shifted in nature and weight throughout the period.
Besides the jumping around from topic to topic, a big weakness is the absence of maps that detail the explorations and ventures of De Gama, Columbus, Magellan, Hawkins and Drake. The bibliography is very skimpy and reflects the reality that Bown is not really a subject matter expert and appears to be heavily dependent upon well received secondary sources. It would also have helped to read a translation of the actual Treaty of Tordesillas.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Very informative history and analysis 29 Aug. 2012
By Gderf - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This short book contains much detailed informative on an interesting, albeit overwritten period of history. There are many valuable references to other works. Bowen examines the intended division of the world between Spain and Portugal under the auspices of papal bulls by Alexander VI, other popes, and the subsequent treaties of Tordessilas and Zaragoza. He traces the military, religious and, most interesting, the legal history in subsequent events, mainly the next two centuries, but with some projection to the preset time.

As a preliminary there's a fine rendition of a history of the formation of Spain focused on
Isabella, Ferdinand and careers of their siblings and progeny. Besides Columbus, Magellan and conquistador history, the book covers well the careers of Hawkins, Drake and Dutch navigator/pirates as they eroded Iberian control of world trade. There's interesting history of the African route as developed by Henry the Navigator, Dias and Da Gama. Subsequent trade wars are traced back to Tordessilas and Columbus. It's especially interesting on Hugo Grotius and the legalistic international attack on the papal deal.

The book combines geography with history, asking what's on the other side of the world from the treaty lines? There economic interest, reminiscent of modern times, as Spanish gold became subject to debt incurred to the Fugger banking house as Spain ruined it's own economy with the flow of new money.

In a projection to modern times, the author says that the attempt to divide the world is not quite dead yet as Chile claims Antarctic lands and Argentine claims the Falklands with legalisms tracing back to 'Inter Caetara'. Bown perhaps overdoes his point, but you don't have to buy into it for an interesting read.
Well told but a little hurried at the end 22 Dec. 2013
By John D. Croft - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Stephen R. Brown is a Canadian historian who, working largely from secondary source material, has managed in this book to give a totally fresh view of how our world came to be. We never know the consequences of our actions. The dynastic problems of a headstrong princess and her domineering brother led to the division of the world and has shaped international politics down to the UN Law of the Sea. It has coloured international law for centuries, resulted in the “Pirates in the Caribbean”, and led to the colonial empires and slavery that accompanied them. An engrossing read.

Two small points, after a detailed introduction I find that the end was a little hurried, almost as if the publisher was pressurising the author to finish the book. As a result he leaves out certain interesting details.

For example, Cook's voyages in the Pacific were a direct challenge to Spanish control of the Pacific. It contributed to Spain's decision to support the American colonies in their War of Independence (a support which backfired as Simon Bolivar used the example of the USA in his own struggle against Spanish rule). It appears too that Cook may have had a Spanish chart of the east coast of Australia when he claimed it for Britain, superceding Spanish control of the Southern Pacific.

Similarly, even though the Dutch superceded and disclaimed Portuguese control in Indonesia, they used the Tordesilas claim in drawing the boundary of West New Guinea as against the Australian and German claims to the Eastern half of the island. The same thing happened in my own state of Western Australia. It was originally called "New Holland" and was claimed by the Dutch as part of their explorations south from Bantam/Batavia. Houtman, mentioned in the text left his name as the Abrolhos (a Portuguese term) off the Western Australian coast. The whole of the Dutch discovery of Australia was a result of the Dutch attempt to get to their Indonesian possessions independently of Portuguese control from Mozambique to Goa along the da Gama route. The fact that there was no reliable way of measuring longitude (mentioned in the text) meant bumping into Australia was almost inevitable.

So we see the state border between Western Australia and the Eastern States is another consequence today of the treaty of Tordesilas.

There were some good stories missed as a result of this oversight, but hey, the author is Canadian not Australian, after all.
a brief historical moment, with ramifications to today 7 Oct. 2013
By K. Kennedy - Published on
Format: Hardcover
"1494: How a Family Feud in Medieval Spain Divided the World in Half" by Stephen Bown tells the story of a relatively forgotten (other than by scholars) historical event and the effects it had on history. Mr. Bown loops in such things as literacy, family squabbles, and what we now call intellectual property rights to create a well-rounded version of this short period of history--what led to it, and its consequences down to today. I learned a great deal from this work, particularly due to Mr. Bown's writing style and method of presentation.
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