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1421: The Year China Discovered America Hardcover – 1 Jan 2003

3.8 out of 5 stars 145 customer reviews

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Product details

  • 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)
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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 an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"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.

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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So Columbus discovered America, well I now think china knew all about both north and south America before we did. But hang on graham hancocks books ring right to me too. So what is the truth about intelligent humans?
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Supposition and the usual cherry picking of evidence to back up pet theories. Is Menzies a pseudonym of Hancock?
I don't have the time nor the inclination to any deeper.
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Seems to be a work of fiction. I would have a look at 1421exposed.com or look up Gavin Menzies on Wikipedia. I think they give a realistic view of the work.
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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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As with so many books of this kind, Menzies' saga begins plausibly enough, rooted in real history. As it continues, it becomes gradually more incredible. I don't know whether this is - charitably - because he has a grand vision to which he has garnered any evidence he can or - less charitably - because he dreamt up a money-spinner and perpetrated an intellectual fraud.

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.
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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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