This a fairly interesting book covering the development of the Americas, and addressing the reasons why North America, and Latin America, have come to be seen so differently, despite being essentially a single land mass. The author touches very briefly on key events. For example the colonisation of of Latin America by Spain and Portugal receives very little attention and the American Civil War is mentioned only in passing. There is almost nothing about Bolivar's liberations and independence wars. There is a clear assumption that readers will already know all this (and much more), so this is not really a book to read if you want to learn about these events.
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.
This is a very strange book. 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., emphasized the Isle of Man, ignored Cornwall and treated the Magna Carta as a quaint scrap of paper. One of his most curious assertions is that "it is a mistake to suppose that great events must have great causes or long drawn-out origins." On this basis, the Roman invasion, Queen Boudicea, Hadrian's Wall, Hastings, the Magna Carta and the Armada are relatively unimportant events in forming today's sense of English identity. Or . . . what does Christ, who lived 2000 years ago, have to do with today's church? He also overlooks the fact that for much of the European occupation of the Americas, Latin America was the richest and most dynamic region. It wasn't until the Industrial Revolution that North America began its rise to the dominance, a time span of 150 years out of the 500 years of European involvement. In other words, the book is packed with oddball observations, strange conclusions and whimsical flights of fancy. It made me wonder if Fernandez-Armesto has ever visited America; it reads like an Englishman's blinkered vision from the confines of his fusty, musty, dusty private club. I doubt if many Americans will recognize the view of this hemisphere that he offers. Granted, there are some rare flashes of insight, but they are few, far between, and well-disguised. To describe the contents in Texas terms, Fernandez-Armesto is "all hat and no cattle."
While there are many comprehensive books about the Americas, such as the USA, the Incas, etc., this is book is somewhat unique. It gives an overview of the history of the Americas, both North and South, including the Native Americas, the Incas and Mayas. Furthermore, the book itself is not too long or complicated, so is an easy but informative read, for those people who do not have too much time to look at everything in great detail. An informative read.
Amazing how slaves influenced the development of both south and north America, as well as the central countries; equally amazing how the Puritan fathers of Massachusetts acted similarly to the actions of ISIS today in Iraq and Syria.