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1421: The Year China Discovered America Audio CD – Audiobook, 1 Dec 2008

3.8 out of 5 stars 140 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Audio CD
  • Publisher: Blackstone Audiobooks; Unabridged edition (Dec. 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1433255103
  • ISBN-13: 978-1433255106
  • Product Dimensions: 16.8 x 15.7 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (140 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 7,856,206 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Amazon Review

If you're going to make a stir, you might as well do it in style. And Gavin Menzies has caused one, big time. In 1421: The Year China Discovered the World, this retired Royal Navy submarine commander, who only visited China for the first time on his 25th wedding anniversary, claims that the Chinese navigator Zheng He discovered America some 71 years before Columbus. And not content with this, he goes on to suggest that Zheng He learnt how to calculate longitude several centuries before John Harrison supposedly nailed the problem. Unsurprisingly, this has not gone down too well in some areas and the book has been the target of some scepticism.

Although Menzies has unearthed a few unknown primary sources, the bulk of his thesis depends on amalgamating several disparate areas of research into a grand unified theory. So he combines what we do know--principally that the Chinese built huge sailing ships with nine masts and that Asiatic chickens were discovered in South America--into what he considers compelling evidence. Menzies has also turned up some maps from the pre-Columbus era that appear to show the Americas, along with a few shipwrecks and Ming artefacts from along his supposed route.

It all makes for a gripping read, even if the sum doesn't quite add up to the whole. For all the detail, Menzies is some way off providing proof. None of the supposed 28,000 colonists has left any documentary evidence because all records, boats and shipyards associated with his voyage were burnt by imperial order in 1433. This surely begs the question--if we know so much of Zheng He's voyages around the Indian Ocean, how come we know nothing of his trips further east? Nor, conveniently for Menzies, did any of the colonists return home in triumph. They either died en route or skulked home to obscurity after they were disowned by the emperor.

So you either accept Menzies as an act of faith or brush him aside with scepticism. Either way, you'll have a lot of fun in the process as the book is never less than provocative. And even the sceptics will find themselves hoping Menzies has got it right, because there's something intrinsically uplifting about the notion of an amateur historian getting one over the professionals. --John Crace --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


"Menzies has come up with something entirely new... it is a startling claim" (Guardian)

"Exhaustively researched... an intriguing and highly persuasive thesis, told with passion and energy" (Evening Standard)

"Popular history at its best" (The Times)

"A book as engrossing as any adventure story" (Daily Mail) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Zheng He was a Chinese admiral during the Ming dynasty, and he seems to have gone along the usual trade routes from China to East Africa that had been established long before his birth. Indian Ocean trade is one of the most fascinating aspects of globalisation before the modern era, and there's a joint Oxford-Cambridge multi-year project devoted to studying it, called SEALINKS. Such trade is extremely ancient, and antedates recorded history. Cinnamon, a spice from Indonesia, is recorded in the Old Testament of the Bible. How did it get there? Through the routes that Zheng He eventually travelled. Treasure ships containing Arab, Indian, east African, Chinese, and Javanese goods are not so rare, and can be found centuries before the Ming dynasty. The Siren of Cirebon wreck in the Java Sea is a good example of that.

What is unusual about Zheng He is that he travelled the entire route himself, rather than journeying to Sumatera or Java to acquire goods from Africa and India or simply waiting in China for ships from Indonesia, as was the norm. This is an immense journey, although to put it in context, European sailors within the same century travelled much greater distances around Africa. Africa had also been visited and settled from the east thousands of years before Zheng He; the population of Madagascar is the result of a fusion of African and Bornean settlers, for instance. Zheng He's accomplishments weren't, therefore, entirely without precedent, and even within China there had been great explorers as far back as the Han dynasty. Xuanzang, the Tang dynasty monk, was one such explorer, one who fortunately left us with accounts of his travels.
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Format: Hardcover
The central argument in this book is that huge Chinese fleets charted pretty much the whole world in 1421-3, and their maps guided the European explorers, from Columbus to Cook.

The most interesting and credible material in this book (p. 382-7) is for the most part identical word for word to a 1977 article in the Geographical Journal, Vol 143, No 3, p 451-9. Menzies does not credit the source, mind you. Read the original rather than Menzies corrupted version. You can find it on the web too. Search for Martellus world maps by Arthur Davies. It presents a convincing argument that the Columbus brothers faked a map to dupe the King and Queen of Spain into funding their project to sail west to Asia.

The rest of the book is nonsense. Menzies is not even consistent. For instance, he claims that the 1513 Piri Reis map shows the coast of Patagonia "with great accuracy," providing evidence that the Chinese had charted it before Magellan got there (p. 116). But on p. 377 he says (rightly) that the latitudes of the Orinoco and Amazon deltas on the 1513 Piri Reis map "are precisely correct," which places the Amazon delta on the coast he had identified as Patagonia! The two regions are on opposite ends of South America! Too make his case appear plausible, Menzies only shows a bit of the Piri Reis map, but when you see the whole map it becomes obvious he is placing Patagonia in the tropics! The whole map is in the colour plates between pages 200 and 201, but he does not refer to it.

Menzies reasoning and standards of proof are amazing. For instance he identifies the Satanazes Island on the 1424 Pizzigano map as the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe (p. 246-9), meaning again that the Chinese had charted it. Now Satanazes is rectangular whereas Guadeloupe looks a bit like a butterfly!
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Format: Paperback
Not bad as cartographic history and the main thesis is certainly intriguing, despite some tenuous evidence. Unfortunately this book really loses the plot when it reaches the purported voyage around north Greenland. First we are told that the north pole was much closer in 1421 and the Chinese may well have got there centuries before westerners, but the book is (deliberately?) vague about just which "pole". The goal of modern explorers has almost invariably been the geographic north pole which is in the same place now as it was in 1421; the celestial north pole does precess but not much, while the magnetic north pole shifts a lot. As a former submariner the author really should be more careful. But there's worse, much worse, to come. We are told that strontium 90 in ice cores reveals a warmer climate at the time. RUBBISH! - strontium 90 is an entirely man-made isotope of strontium that first entered into the environment via atomic bomb tests in the 1940's. Of course this "evidence" fails the first hurdle of scientific credibility because there is simply no reference to its source, either in the book or on the 1421 web-site. If strontium 90 is indeed found in those ice cores only two conclusions are possible - either the ice core dating is wrong or somebody in 1421 had the atom bomb! Mr Menzies would no doubt choose the latter !
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Format: Paperback
You'd hope for more from a former Royal Navy commander, but sadly while his publicity machine is first rate, his history is anything but.

It would be lovely to turn what we know about naval history on its head and say that the Chinese Admiral Zheng He conclusively 'discovered' America or Australia long before any European navigators/explorers.

Unfortunately, this book falls into the category of what publishers call "wa-wa" history. In other words, it ain't true - and the historical reseach is shoddy.

The publishers know it's rubbish. We the public know it's rubbish, but we buy it anyway. And so they publish, because they know we'll buy it and they'll make money. In other words we get the books we deserve. We should be reading decent, reseach-based histories - but we find them rather dull so we don't....

Despite the welter of 5 and 4 star reviews this book has garnered on Amazon, it is important - before you buy it - to note one important fact.

Not ONE single naval historian has given any credence to these claims. Not any European - nor any Chinese - historian. In fact, they all say that the evidence is not there.

While other readers seem to like this book, I have to say that having read other books on global trade and sea voyages in the pre-modern era, I found Menzies style very confusing and it was very difficult to follow his train of thought and how he was using evidence to support his conclusions

Astonishingly, Menzies seems to have ignored two key pieces of Chinese evidence for Zheng He's voyages which list the countries he visited - and don't mention anything that could be America.

In fact Menzies does not read Chinese and there are no direct quotes from any articles or studies written in Chinese.
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