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Pathfinders: A Global History of Exploration [Hardcover]

Felipe Fernández-Armesto
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

28 Sep 2006
Explorers forged the infrastructure of global history, first by finding the routes of migration that sundered human cultures, then - after millennia of divergence - by finding the routes that linked them up again. Pathfinders tells the epic story of how the route-finders did it: who they were, where they came from, where they went, how they coped with the unknown, how they developed the techniques and technologies they needed, how they paid for it, how they suffered for it, and - perhaps most curious of all - why they bothered. From the earliest migratory wanderings that scattered human societies across the planet to the great voyages of discovery that started linking them up again, and finally to the conquering of the final geographical frontiers in the twentieth century, Fernández-Armesto reveals the real flesh-and-blood, the vainglory and fantasy that motivated the pathfinders of the world.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 446 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford; 1st Edition edition (28 Sep 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199295905
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199295906
  • Product Dimensions: 24.2 x 19 x 3.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 579,371 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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A spectacular book. Fernandez-Armesto specialises in works of scrupulous scholarship and staggering breadth. (Angel Gurria-Quintana, Financial Times (FT Magazine) )

The fascination and charm of Pathfinders lie in the balance the book strikes between giving a broad overview and lingering on stories with documentary richness and narrative drive. As always in Fernandez-Armesto's work, the range of reference is wide, the writing felicitous and witty. (Ronald Wright, Times Literary Supplement )

Absorbing.... Pathfinders is a significant contribution to our knowledge of humankind's restless quest to explore and exploit Planet Earth. (Justin Marozzi, Literary Review )

Magisterial account....both concise and bold. (Hugh Thomson, The Independent )

Fernandez-Armesto takes us around the world in 428 fascinating pages. (Anthony Sattin, Sunday Times )

A meticulously researched account of centuries of ambition and world-spanning lunacy... Crisp, eloquent, written in consistently memorable prose. (Joanna Kavenna, New Statesman )

Fernandez-Armesto's human-centred story-telling and dazzling command of material convey the excitement of explorartion admirably (The Spectator, Andro Linklater )

His portraits are crisp and eloquent, written in consistently memorable prose. (Joanna Kavenna, New Statesman )

The temporal remit of Fernandez-Armesto's book is wonderfully broad. (Joanna Kavenna, New Statesman )

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Journey of Discovery 28 April 2008
Felipe's Pathfinders: A Global History of Exploration is a tremendous piece of writing, covering a vast topic in an eminently readable style. Whilst not claiming to be a sacrosanct text, Felipe presents some of the most commonly accepted explanations about aspects of this huge topic in a very pragmatic and reasonable way. Amongst the many topics covered are the following:

* A brief history of early human development and the dispersion of people around the globe
* How the natural environment around the Indian Ocean enabled a flourishing, ocean going trade system to develop many, many centuries ago
* Insights into how trade, romanticism and empire building inspired various European countries to start explorations around the globe
* How a desire to reach the Indo-Chinese trade routes led to the `discovery' of America: which was for a long time only seen as a barrier to the original goal
* A look at what is now left for the pathfinders of today and tomorrow

I started reading this book knowing that I knew very little of the history about how humanity had developed in different parts of the world, I have also found that my knowledge of the worlds geography was also limited and, as such, spent a lot of time referencing a small globe whilst reading. I would recommend this book for anyone with an interest in history or humanity or, as myself, the origins of world trade and commerce.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars wise and wonderful 29 Sep 2007
Fernandez Armesto has breathtaking ambition and scope. His history combines a fine sense for what makes a great yarn with sure-footed scholarship. He tells it with a flourish, and what an epic collection of tales he has to tell. This is what history should be, great entertainment, a welter of fasincating detail, and a grand perspective.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great history writing 9 July 2007
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
One cannot praise enough this book for its clarity and profoundity, when the author unravels the paths pursued by humanity in exploring the world and other cultures.Armesto's fine intuitions and great storitelling make this book a true masterpiece.
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10 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The route-finders 9 Nov 2006
By Kris
Finally we have received a book about exploration which on the contrary to Allen's book `Faber book of Exploration' gives wide and not only English perspective on the subject. And this is the greatest value of this volume in addition to truly spectacular review of human endurance in exploration. For Fernandez-Armesto, on the contrary to Allen, the world exploration is a continuous process, which is not only related to mare conquering lands and seas but mainly to human progress from the dark past to present time. Remarkable work showing from the first chapter to the last one how we came to global vision and one would say destruction by globalization. ( Chapter 9).
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Amazon.com: 3.5 out of 5 stars  13 reviews
35 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars exploring who we are and who we were 2 Dec 2006
By Richard Cumming - Published on Amazon.com
I was always fascinated by the great explorers; Columbus, Magellan, Da Gama. The stories that we learned about these men in school seemed like cliche's. What were they really like? What were they really looking for?

This scholarly yet accessible book tells their stories as well as the tales of many explorers we have not heard about. Dr. Fernandez-Armesto probes deeply yet prudently. In a mere 400 pages he covers the history of exploration in chronological fashion. We travel across the sea to Brasil with Cabral. We visit the polar regions with Amundsen and Scott. Captain Cook takes us everywhere. We go into the Amazon and the heart of Africa.

This book is a marvel. Your children will be enriched. Adults will be illuminated. Beautifully written, smoothly flowing, a wonder to read. This reviewer came away stunned and delighted.
37 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pathfinders, a book to read and reread 12 Sep 2006
By Renée van de Graaf - Published on Amazon.com
I have had the opportunity of reading Professor Fernandez-Armesto`s book that describes the history of global exploration. I must confess that it has enlightened my mind up to the point of finding answers to many of the questions I have quoted since my school years. His original and provoking theories justify why Europeans seek the discovery of new then unknown lands (when boats where able to sail upwind, when the Canary Islands entered the map and when the determination of rulers and financiers made it possible) whilst other peoples with similar or even great development of sailing technology and enjoying of similar trade winds did not succeed in conquering other territories as they lacked the sense of long term view. I have it on my bedside table to refresh my memory on who did what. It has already given me the opportunity of sharing what I have learnt through its lecture with my friends and I am sure each time I review it, will be able to gather new interesting information. I strongly recommend scholars and everyone interested in history to browse its pages and glean ideas from our history to learn about our future.
16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Yes as an Overview, No as a Reference 1 May 2008
By LVT06 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book's strength is its encapsulation of a wide swath of human migration into concise segments and sufficient historical reference. The author largely avoids the in-the-weeds details of each major exploration and colonial settlement. Reviewers criticize the author's abbreviated and unsourced assertions. There are some courageous dismissals of widely held conventional wisdoms. But there are also some clearly Spanish biases shining through: See the curt rejection of the late 16th century British maritime prowess as that of a barbarian nation, particularly in its defeat of the Spanish armada; See the avoidance of detailing Spanish atrocities in the exploration of South America; See no mention of the formal closure of Spain's colonial era in the late 19th Century with the Spanish-American war.

Most irritating is the author's tone in the final segment of the book, where he broadly swipes at late-19th/early-20th century explorations as mere "glory-seeking." Some of those expeditions, while fruitless and ego-driven, set the foundations for subsequent engineering, scientific, transport and commercial developments that propelled human civilization to greater advancements and quality of life.
16 of 21 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Terrible 31 Aug 2010
By S. Imerman - Published on Amazon.com
I stopped reading after about 70 some pages. In one map he has Khotan and the Turfan Depression virtually co-located, and both southeast(!) of the Taklamakan Desert. In another he references Novgorod in the caption while Nizhny Novgorod is marked on the map and labeled as Novgorod, a mistake of about 500 miles.
The author makes maddeningly vague references to so many things never explained. One of the last frustrations I experienced before dropping the book was when he mentioned the Islamic traveler Ibn Battuta. He was cited as possibly the greatest traveler of all time and dismissed, all in about half a paragraph. I lived in Hawaii several years and talked to modern Polynesian navigators resurrecting the old ways of navigation. The author's vague outlines of Polynesian methods of finding far off islands are deficient in detail and just plain wrong in some assertions.
I'm not a book reviewer, or specialist, or historian, just a retired army first sergeant who likes to read. If I can spot that many errors and frustrations in less than 80 pages, I wonder what an expert would find.
13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not really explaining all the reasons why things happen 6 Mar 2007
By D. Antosik - Published on Amazon.com
Based on the reviews below, I was very much expecting a book that will explain to me why certain facts in history REALLY happened. To be true, the book offered some interesting insights to me, like it was better to sail into (against) the wind than with the wind, as the sailors have much better chance of coming home.

On the other hand, the author sometimes makes enormous statements without somehow backing them by evidence - like he claims that American civilizations (North and South) are so different that they must clearly be coming from different origins. I am actually believing this, but I would expect more analysis and not just one paragraph stating this.

However, what I lacked the most in the book is the non-attempt to explain why things happened. I mean the author tries to do it and sometimes he succeeds. But for the most interesting events, his reasoning and solutions provided are of the "scratch-the-surface" type. His long elaboration why the Americas were discovered in 1490s (and not in other time), ends with a statement that this is because the events that happened in 1480s - WHOA, but then he does not really come back to say, what made the 1480s happen in that time...making all his analysis standing naked as it could have happened any time. And there are many more of these unfinished or unfulfilling (at least to me) statements - sort-of half-solutions.

In summary, what I really liked about the book is:

1. It frames your thinking so that you can at least ask some of the very important questions... and try to find the answers to the questions. 2. It also does a really excellent job of summarizing the key facts in the history of exploration.

But if you are looking for well-reasoned answers to questions why the events happened, you will not always find the most satisfying ones.
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