Looking at the synopsis one could be forgiven for thinking that this book was all simply about the Waldseemuller map. Rather it is an epic story spread over some 400 years of mankind's slowly groping towards an understanding of the shape and nature of the planet, written in a beautifully lucid and gripping style. Toby Lester really does seem to have grasped the 'big picture' and tells it like a detective story. I thought I knew just about everything about the people and events portrayed but that knowledge has been immensely enriched by the insight Lester shares with us. I would recommend this book to anybody.
This book is a delight to read and certainly exceeded my expectations. The strengths of the book are its breadth of coverage and the prose style of the author, Toby Lester. The latter is always an important aspect of any non-fiction book and is, in my opinion, the deciding factor when it comes to making the subject matter stimulating and enjoyable. The author carves out a wonderful story that embraces both continents and centuries. It is a timely publication given the recent documentaries on BBC and the exhibition at the British Library.
No previous experience is needed to enjoy this book. It reads like an adventure story, using as its cast all the famous ancient names - Ptolemy, Petrarch, Boccaccio, Marco Polo, Henry the Navigator - we feel we should know more about. To have achieved such readability with such a serious history is a unique achievement. Here's what it did for me. I have shunned pre-15th century history, because not much original printed material is available (in an era before printing presses). As a result, my experience of anything written about the 300 years or so from 1200 - 1500, has been off-putting: full of archaeological, religious & classical references to historical mountain ranges I have never felt able or willing to climb. (I can't stand Aristotle - the only book I tore in two half way through reading it was De Anima. And I can't stand archaeology - using bits of clay to reconstruct Egyptian civilisation.) But if you are vaguely interested in the Age of Discovery from 1500 - 1800 and US history after that, and the last 150 years of Asian history, you will keep coming across something called humanism. Man is the measure of all things. This book has given me a richer foundation to explore the antecedents of the modern, humanist world we now live in. It is immensely learned, sympathetic to the reader and original in its chosen historical perspective - maps. And now an apology. I should not inflict my prejudice on Aristotle or archaeology on anyone who reads this. But I suspect that many normal readers, with insufficient knowledge about Classical civilisations will avoid a book like this because it is just more of the same impenetrable gossip about Greek & Roman thinkers. Don't. Read it. It is fabulous. These Greek & Roman thinkers - and so much else - come alive.
Every picture tells a story, then what is the story behind the picture? Every map will have it's story, then what is the story behind the Waldseemullermap from 1507? The mothermap with the Amerika continents, and it's name 'america'.
The book is so well writen that it felt I was having my own discovery of the world. Toby Lester shows the reader what kind of knowledge especcialy European people had about the world with what kind of maps, starting around the year 1200. The world was Europe, some countries in the east (West Asia) and some land in the south (Northern Africa). Chapter by chapter your understanding about that known world becomes bigger. As a reader, chapter by chapter you start to understand how it must have been when a traveller came with information about a new part of the world. All this information leads you to the how of the making of the worldly famous Waldseemullermap.
The invasion by the Mongols, Marco Polo, the journeys to Asia, the turning at the south point of Africa, Columbus and Amerigo Vespucci. They are all there for you in this fascinating book. It was a great pleasure to read.