- Hardcover: 576 pages
- Publisher: William Morrow & Company; First U. S. Edition First Printing edition (Jan. 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0060537639
- ISBN-13: 978-0060537630
- Product Dimensions: 15.6 x 4.1 x 23.5 cm
- Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars See all reviews (145 customer reviews)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,338,837 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
1421: The Year China Discovered America Hardcover – 1 Jan 2003
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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 an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"No matter what you think of Menzies's theories, his enthusiasm is infectious."--Christian Science Monitor
"Captivating . . . a historical detective story . . . that adds to our knowledge of the world, past and present."--Daily News
"Menzies' enthusiasm is infectious and his energy boundless. He has raised important questions and marshaled some fascinating information."--Toronto Globe and Mail
" is likely to be the most fascinating read of 2003."--UPI
"[Menzies] makes history sound like pure fun...a seductive read."--New York Times Magazine
"What you've done, brilliantly, is to raise many questions that people are debating."--Diane Rehm, The Diane Rehm Show
Menzies enthusiasm is infectious and his energy boundless. He has raised important questions and marshaled some fascinating information. --Toronto Globe and Mail"
Captivating . . . a historical detective story . . . that adds to our knowledge of the world, past and present. --Daily News"
is likely to be the most fascinating read of 2003. --UPI"
No matter what you think of Menzies s theories, his enthusiasm is infectious. --Christian Science Monitor"
What you ve done, brilliantly, is to raise many questions that people are debating. --Diane Rehm, The Diane Rehm Show"
[Menzies] makes history sound like pure fun...a seductive read. --New York Times Magazine"
-Menzies' enthusiasm is infectious and his energy boundless. He has raised important questions and marshaled some fascinating information.---Toronto Globe and Mail
-Captivating . . . a historical detective story . . . that adds to our knowledge of the world, past and present.---Daily News
- is likely to be the most fascinating read of 2003.---UPI
-No matter what you think of Menzies's theories, his enthusiasm is infectious.---Christian Science Monitor
-What you've done, brilliantly, is to raise many questions that people are debating.---Diane Rehm, The Diane Rehm Show
-[Menzies] makes history sound like pure fun...a seductive read.---New York Times Magazine --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
I don't have the time nor the inclination to any deeper.
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.Read more ›
Certainly, he's not above economy with the truth. Early editions apparently said that he was born in China, later corrected. His frequent assertions that his naval background gives him special insights are, equally, disingenuous. Many of these relate to ocean currents and prevailing winds which are, of course, easily researched in reference books or on the internet.
At the least, Menzies has followed a course of wild speculation which is unsupported by any substantial evidence. Initially, the idea that a Chinese vessel could have been blown round the Cape of Good Hope is far from implausible. One starts to get slightly uneasy as it sets up stones inscribed in Tamil (why?) in Africa and colonises South America with chickens. Then things start to get really peculiar. We're asked to believe that the Chinese picked up giant sloths (generally agreed to be long extinct) in Patagonia and took them to New Zealand (where needless to say, they have vanished without trace), en route visiting Antarctica and Australia.
If this seems (other than the giant sloths) to be just within the realms of possibility - after all, Australia could be reached quite easily from Indonesia - one's jaw drops when a voyage around the north of Greenland is described.
It looks as though Menzies has trawled the internet for anomaly sites and pressed every possible oddity into service.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This book is a pleasure to read and, whether the final conclusions are accurate or not, it opens one's eyes to a sophisticated culture far ahead of Europe at the time. Read morePublished 13 months ago by Malcolm Pemberton
Brilliant eye-opening read. Not just historical insight about Europeans explorers being beaten to it (ever wondered why so many indigenous peoples outside Asia look oriental? Read morePublished 14 months ago by J. Horwood
Excellent read - well written - a very interesting reqrite of historyPublished 16 months ago by Amazon Customer