The Americas: A History of Two Continents (UNIVERSAL HISTORY) Hardcover – 11 Sep 2003
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Felipe was interviewed on the TODAY PROGRAMME (BBC Radio 4) on Monday 8th September and by RELAX WITH A BOOK on 29th September. There has been interest from the SUNDAY TIMES news review, for an interview with or an article by Felipe. Events: CAMBRIDGE HISTORY FESTIVAL (Sunday 7 September) - Felipe Fernandez-Armesto is taking part in an event called 'Making Sense of History' where he will explore the challenge of squeezing centuries into programme slots. CHELTENHAM (11 October) - Felipe will be in a debate with Hugh Thomas Reviews: 'The indefatigable Felipe Fernandez-Armesto has produced an admirably concise book of the world's most important and most contrasting continents.'THE BOOKSELLER 'Felipe Fernandez-Armesto is one of the most brilliant historians currently at work. All his books are bravura displays of erudition, fizzing with seminal thoughts, original ideas and new syntheses of existing knowledge. His lastest, ambitious project is no exception. The idea of wrting a synoptic history of both Latin and anglophone Americas is an audacious and inspired one.'Frank McLynn, THE INDEPENDENT (20.9.03) 'One of the most formidable politicalexplicators of our time is undoubtedly Felipe Fernandez-Armesto...[The Americas] really does manage to give a...narrative conviction to the whole story of the western hemisphere, prehistory to 2001, from blank on the map to world dominance. I read every word with admiration...Armesto...has given us an anthology of enthralling historical observations.'Jan Morris, NEW STATESMAN 'Fernandez-Armesto combines an original mind with a vivid pen and here he addresses a complex topic with precision and restraint.'Raymond Seitz, THE TIMES (3.9.03) 'This laudably short book is a stupendous and eminently readable exercise in comparative history...[Fernandez-Armesto's] gifts as an imagainative - and revisionist - historian will give his readers an exhilarating ride throughthe hemisphere - and provide television producers with a memorable script.'Raymond Carr, THE SPECTATOR (13.9.03) Reviews are also planned in the SUNDAY TIMES and LITERARY REVIEW
A history of North, South and Central America, from prehistory to the present, by one of the world's most exciting historians.See all Product Description
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Instead this is more like an extended essay, comparing and contrasting the conditions in a range of countries. Almost inevitably the United States get the most attention here, but there is quite a bit too, about Brazil, Mexico, and Canada. However there is very little about most of the Latin American countries like Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, Chile or Uraguay.
Fairly enjoyable reading but as the entire history of the Americas is covered here in just 170 pages, inevitably light on detail.
To be blunt, despite occasional flashes of insight, Fernandez-Armesto's grasp of facts seems shaky. Early in the book, he
announced the great achievements at Chaco Canyon were "between the eleventh and fourteenth centuries A.D." In reality, the
Chaco Culture (as it is properly known) began in the late 800s and collapsed about 1110 A.D.
He regards the Monroe Doctrine as an American idea, enacted at a time when the United States had four frigates to enforce
its provisions. In reality it was a post-Napoleonic British initiative, designed to prevent any European power developing an
empire somewhere in the Americas that might someday challenge Britain.
He says in Texas "you can see people in what amounts to the state dress: Stetson and cowboy boots." State dress? From
personal experience, "Stetson and cowboy boots" are common throughout the Southwest US and northern Mexico.
When describing the Maya, who flourished until about 1000 A.D., he writes "the system was designed not so much to
communicate as to keep secrets." So? That was true of European society in the same time span; it was a common feature of
most societies. People kept secrets to protect their advantages, the era of the tell-all blabbermouth didn't begin until the
Protestant Reformation. The Scientific Revolution was based on sharing knowledge, not on keeping secrets.
He is fascinated by Tierra del Fuego, almost ignores Canada, and completely ignores what became the industrial heartland of
North America because of neaby natural resources amd a superb network of lakes, rivers and canals. It's as if a history of
England said Hadrian's Wall was built in 400 A.D.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
My knowledge of the Americas was typically unbalanced. I knew much about US history but next to nothing about Canadian or Latin American history. Therefore, this book's approach was very thought-provoking, putting the familiar story of America's rise in broader context.
This book attempts to look at the big picture, and in my view, fails. The interesting details are what made this book valuable. The author excels in collecting a diverse assortment of interesting knowledge: architecture in Brazil, genocide in Tierra del Fuego, Catholicism in Latin America, etc. He does little with this assortment besides debunking various straw-man arguments.
To understand the big picture in history is no easy feat. Fernand Braudel was the master of this. Indeed, I suspect "The Americas" was inspired by Braudel's chapter on "America" in his masterly (though somewhat dated) A History of Civilizations. Braudel's genius was not in amassing detailed lists, but in making sense of civilizations in their entirety. Fernandez-Armesto is smart enough to collect a vast, eclectic storehouse of knowledge, but has not succeeded here in digesting that knowledge into wise insight.
Anyone interested in big-picture history done right should look to OUP's Empire: A Very Short Introduction and The Renaissance: A Very Short Introduction.
It is a refreshing read, one which gives a good perspective and questions rightfully the current cliche about North ever-lasting superiority vs South. The first half of the book is quite educating in its history of the South domination over the North and its causes. You get to look at the whole American continent from a brand new perspective.
The author also thinks that North domination will not last and that the Americas may someday be a more homogeneous group of countries.
Overall, I found all the theories in the book interesting and the historical background extremely educating. And the book is very short, so that's a profitable reading.
This book is an OK read. Some of the other books in this series are more history than theory, so I was a bit put off by the subtitle of a hemispheric history, when in fact it is some theories about the inequality in the continent. The reader should keep an open mind to these theories, since they may prove to be true.
While I find Fernandez-Armesto's telegraphic style excusable, the personal digressions and eccentric theories of the later chapters are somewhat jarring. Some passages are amusing: "I am a Catholic, so . . . It would comfort me to believe that capitalism and imperialism are peculiarly Protestant vices" (193). Others lead one to wonder where Fernandez-Armesto got his information: "Mainstream America lives in small towns, where almost everyone knows almost everyone else" (196)--in fact, the United States has been predominantly urban since c. 1920. Still other passages made me wonder if Fernandez-Armesto fully realized what he was implying. For example, he praises Uruguay for being "more progressive than Switzerland, for most of the twentieth century, in women's rights, labor laws, welfare provision, and economic regulation" (184-185). Switzerland, which did not grant women suffrage until 1971, hardly provides a benchmark by which to evaluate a nation's progressivism! The book does include some more insightful passages, such as one in which Fernandez-Armesto questions the prevailing stereotype that North America is Protestant and Latin America Catholic, but overall, I felt that Fernandez-Armesto dropped the ball after a couple of provocative and interesting opening chapters.