THE FOURTH PART OF THE WORLD
This is a fascinating book in four different parts.
It starts by telling the story of The Waldseemüller Map of 1507 which in that year represented a revolutionary new geographical vision but all copies had been lost over the centuries. Diligently searched for and never found, a copy was unexpectedly unearthed in 1901 in a remote German castle and was sold in 2003 for $10,000,000, to America because it was the first map to use the word America. It introduced an astonishing collection of cartographical firsts. Columbus believed he'd reached the vicinity of Japan and China, but it was really the new continent called America named after the sea captain Amerigo Vespucci who also reached it but knew it couldn't be the east coast of India. Amerigo Vespucci was able, on land, to approximately calculate longitude. This was the first map to show the New World as a separate continent, alongside Europe, Africa and Asia - and the first on which the word 'America' appears. It was the first map to suggest the existence of the Pacific. It was, in short, the first map to depict the whole world as we know it today.
Much of the information came from sources like Marco Polo, and the trading with the Indies over land which prompted the exploratory voyages of the Portuguese, and others like Christopher Columbus driven with a desire to find a sea route to gold and spices to make their and their sovereigns' fortunes. The sea voyages of the explorers, drawing charts as they tried to find a way round Africa along unknown coasts was dangerous with always the need to try and find a route to the spice islands.
Parts two and three of the book read like an adventure story, using as their casts all the famous ancient names - Ptolemy, Petrarch, Boccaccio, Marco Polo, Henry the Navigator, Amerigo Vespucci and Christopher Columbus, spread over some 400 years of mankind 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 as knowledge of the parts of the world are pierced together and finally are put together by the German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller.
Part three describes the making of the map, the projection Waldseemüller chose to use, and then concludes with a story that's almost never told: of how, not long after its publication in 1507, the map made its way to Poland and helped the young Nicholas Copernicus develop the startling idea that earth was not fixed at the centre of the cosmos but instead revolved around the sun.
Looking at the synopsis one could be forgiven for thinking that this book was all simply about the Waldseemüller map. Rather it is an epic story of discovery that can be dipped into and read in parts as desired.
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 and widening of my knowledge to read such a story.