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Unknown Seas Hardcover – 10 Nov 2003

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: John Murray (10 Nov 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0719564166
  • ISBN-13: 978-0719564161
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 24.2 x 3.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 979,501 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Eclipsed for us by Columbus's westward voyages on the one hand and post-colonial proprietary feelings towards Africa and India on the other, the explorations of 15th-century Portuguese navigators have not had the recognition they've deserved in Britain ... A gripping adventure narrative, this book makes a persuasive case for the reassessment of a crucial episode in history (Scotsman)

stirring stuff ... a fine read (The Naval Review)

This book gives a well-organised account of Portuguese preparations for the expedition, and da Gama's exploits during his 2-year voyage 1497-99 ... The text flows well, and the accounts of his dealings with various groups who were none too co-operative are stirring stuff. It is a fine read (Naval Review)

Book Description

In the fifteenth century, the world beyond Europe began to emerge from myth, legend and rumour. For those who sailed beyond the known world. Theirs is a story of passion, of blood and treachery, of incomparable bravery, of majestic sweeps of vision.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 18 Nov 2003
Format: Hardcover
An outstanding, extraordinary book. A surprisingly fast and satisfying read. Highly recommended.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Peter K. Booker on 16 Sep 2012
Format: Hardcover
Ronald Watkins is an American historian based in Phoenix Arizona whose grasp of Portuguese and Portuguese history is not the most secure. Portuguese names and Portuguese words are mangled throughout this book. Watkins relies at least in part on the writings of mid twentieth century historians (they are assiduously annotated; why is their work still relevant?). He refers to a book called Roteiro (which was the logbook of the pilots of the Portuguese ships) without showing how it may be consulted. Although the book is subtitled "How Vasco da Gama Opened the East", da Gama makes his appearance only on page 166 out of 304. The first half of the book is given over to the story of the Portuguese voyages of discovery between their beginning after the capture of Ceuta until the death of D João II. This in itself is no bad thing, but may be better covered in books such as Peter Russell's Prince Henry the Navigator A Life.

Watkins asserts facts from time to time which are not supported by other historians. For example on page 58, he makes D João I confer knighthoods on his sons in Ceuta itself, where others show that the ceremony took place in Tavira in the Algarve; he states on p 298 "Almost immediately after its discovery on their second voyage to India the Portuguese had communities in Brazil which soon prospered........." This statement is just wrong. Portugal was so challenged in terms on manpower that the discovery of Brazil was almost an embarrassment; there was a dearth of potential colonists, and not until about 1550 did the king apply importance to the development of any colonial activity in Brazil. There are many other examples of misleading statements in Unknown Seas.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 13 reviews
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
An unexpected pleasure 3 Dec 2007
By sealawyer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Every once and awhile someone will come along and write a book about a subject that has been researched, debated and otherwise covered so often before that it lacks appeal to the average reader. Under those circumstances, there is the temptation to pass by yet another telling of the same story. It is rare to find a fresh treatment of an historical event that was introduced to most Americans by a fifth grade textbook.

I don't know much about the author of "Unknown Seas" but I know a great deal about the tale he tells, having studied Portuguese history for years. That said, I would enthusiastically recommend his book because it is that rare combination of accurate reporting within a broad historical context, together with a fascination for detail that makes it an unexpected pleasure. I found no errors in the description of what actually happened and great fun in how the story was told.

Vacso da Gama's voyage to India was arguably one of the most significant sea journeys in recorded history. At the time it occurred it had a far greater impact upon European culture, politics and its economy than all of Columbus' multiple trips to "the new world" combined. Ronald Watkins takes the reader on this remarkable adventure but he also supplies the necessary historical background, as well as the motivations and personalities of the principal characters involved to give the story a deeper meaning. If you want an academic treatment of da Gama's extraordinary achievement, read C.R. Boxer. But if what you are looking for is a detailed accounting of how a skilled leader and often ruthless adventurer from a small nation, with limited human resources but brilliant leadership, literally changed first medieval Europe, and ultimately the world, get this book. It won't disappoint.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
History as story - a great read 19 Sep 2006
By Matthew NYC - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The history of Portuguese exploration and discovery in Africa and Asia is fertile ground for a dramatic tale, and the author does a good job of conveying a sense of excitement and wonder, placing the reader in the shoes of someone witnessing the events for the first time.

While I found the general lack of citations disappointing, the book is easy to read while still providing detailed history of events. This book would make a great introduction for anyone with even a slight curiousity about this period in history.

Further reading of more scholarly books will provide the nitty-gritty details of the various source materials (as well as the disputes by historians about various aspects) but this book avoids scholarly debate and the modern tendency to attempt to knock every historic figure off his pedestal. Overall a pleasure to read.

I would just note that, unlike the some of the other reviewers, I found no trace of the author making excuses for the slave trade or any other such events. What the author has done is put the actions of the Portuguese in their proper historical context as opposed to viewing them through the lens of modern values.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Unknown Seas: How Vasco Da Gama Opened The East 26 Jun 2007
By Gregory Robinson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Unknown Seas: How Vasco Da Gama Opened The East

By Ronald J.Watkins

In order to grasp the situation involving the century-old Portuguese story, one must note the historical implications, especially the economic as well as the self-interest of the nation, its political agendas, and the individual drives of the major players found in any monograph written about Vasco da Gama. In Watkin's version, the author's ability to tell the story from many viewpoints is useful in a comprehensive understanding of the events surrounding Vasco da Gama's life and times.

Given that any story written about Gama can never be fully presented, since what actually happened as well as what others said actually happened, remains the fodder of constant flux and debate since few documents survive to date, Watkins surely paints an intriguing portrait of the man. Vasco da Gama is known by the historicity of a dozen or so primary documents, those with historical authenticity that describe his story and the legendary status surrounding his lifetime achievements, and those written after his death. A good historian combines crafted methodologies related to primary and secondary sources that surely offer accurate timelines and descriptions noted as presentations of the events described. In Watkin's tale, we see elements of both historical accuracy and the solid skills of a good storyteller.

Thus, what can we learn from Ronald J. Watkin's version of events? This remains the ultimate question since one can sense that after reading the entire corpus, it appears to be a very interesting, if not, "a more than introductory account" of Gama's story, albeit, seen through prism the eyes of a 21st century writer.

Watkin's sources include: Rotiero of Gama's first voyage to India; Gasper Correia, The Three Voyages of Vasco da Gama, and His Viceroyalty, from the Lendas da India, (London,1869); Bailey Diffie and George D. Winnius, Foundations of the Portuguese Empire 1415-1580 (Minneapolis 1977), and S.E. Morison's Sailing Instructions of Vasco da Gama to Pedro Álvares Cabral. Other additional standard sources used by Watson includes H.V. Livermore's A New History of Portugal, Cambridge 1969); Edgar Prestage's, The Portuguese Voyages of Prestage's The Chronicle of Discovery and Conquest of Guinea and The Portuguese Pioneers ).

From the introduction to the conclusion, one finds Watkin's version of the account and his writing style at times excellent and poignant. Starting with a tale about Columbus and his historic meeting with John II of Portugal, until Gama's discovery, which led to "the blueprint of future Portuguese dominance of spice trade with all that that meant for the tiny, impoverished nation," one finds this tale compelling and though provoking. I highly recommend this excellent book.

Greg Robinson
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Brilliant and interesting - Very readable. 27 Oct 2005
By Antonio Rui Afonso - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I thought I've read everything about Vasco da Gama until I discovered this concise and interesting book. Very readable, it tells one of the most dangerous and adventurous sea voyages into a mythical and unknown region.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Bravo! 16 May 2009
By JPerestrello - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Concise , light , lively and informative work on Vasco da Gama and portuguese contribution to reach other civilisations and open the unknown world....
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