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Amerigo: The Man Who Gave His Name to America Europe Portugal Felipe Fernandez-Armesto Random House Trade Paperbacks Reprint edition

30th November 2011 History Books 12 Comments

Starred Review. In a dazzling new biography, noted historian Fernández-Armesto (Columbus) captures the exploits of the now mostly forgotten adventurer for whom the New World was named—a man the author characterizes as a self-promoter lacking in talent and accomplishment. Born into a Florentine family, the young Amerigo Vespucci (1454–1512) entered the seagoing life to make his fortune; his earliest expeditions were in search of pearls. As a result of his later voyages, however, Vespucci presented himself as a celestial navigator and master of the art of reading latitude and even longitude. As Fernández-Armesto points out, Vespucci’s own accounts of his voyages were largely colored by his readings, so that he exaggerated the physical beauty of the new worlds and the new peoples he encountered, and he promoted himself as an expert in cosmography when his skills were far more modest. Although Vespucci claimed to have navigated beyond the Pole Star and to have measured longitude by lunar distances, Fernández-Armesto shows that these claims were false. But Vespucci promoted himself so well that mapmakers in 1507 chose to name America after him. Fernández-Armesto weaves an elegant tale of Vespucci’s ability to transform himself from a merchant into an explorer and conqueror of new worlds. (Aug. 7)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. –This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

*Starred Review* An outstanding historian of Atlantic exploration, Fernndez-Armesto delves into the oddities of cultural transmission that attached the name America to the continents discovered in the 1490s. Most know that it honors Amerigo Vespucci, whom the author introduces as an amazing Renaissance character independent of his name’s fameand does Fernndez-Armesto ever deliver. Pimp, flimflam man, diplomat, business agent, and inventive writer, Vespucci’s many guises spring from his record of failing at one thing and moving on to the next. A Florentine, he performed government functions for the Medici, apparently not well enough for promotion but good enough to maintain correspondence when Vespucci decamped for Seville and entered the orbit of Columbus. Vespucci’s letters and travel writings about his several voyages to the New World became his brief to be an explorer, but Vespucci’s authorship is contested, informs Fernndez-Armesto, who analyzes the scholarly controversy with clarity. In 1507 one of the writings that Fernndez-Armesto regards as bogus reached gullible geographers in the landlocked duchy of Lorraine, of all places; they added “America” to their world map, which became popular. On such contingencies was the permanence of America’s name achieved, a story brightly animated by Fernndez-Armesto’s biography. Taylor, Gilbert –This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

In Amerigo, the award-winning scholar Felipe Fernndez-Armesto answers the question Whats in a name? by delivering a rousing flesh-and-blood narrative of the life and times of Amerigo Vespucci. Here we meet Amerigo as he really was: a rogue and raconteur who counted Christopher Columbus among his friends and rivals; an amateur sorcerer who attained fame and honor through a series of disastrous failures and equally grand self-reinventions. Filled with well-informed insights and amazing anecdotes, this magisterial and compulsively readable account sweeps readers from Medicean Florence to the Sevillian court of Ferdinand and Isabella, then across the Atlantic of Columbus to the brave New World where fortune favored the bold.

Amerigo Vespucci emerges from these pages as an irresistible avatar for the age of explorationand as a man of genuine achievement as a voyager and chronicler of discovery. And now, in Amerigo, this mercurial and elusive figure finally has a biography to do full justice to both the man and his remarkable era.

Praise for Amerigo:

Wonderfully idiosyncratic and intelligent.
The New York Times Book Review

Fascinating . . . [Fernndez-Armestos] lively style is effective in evoking the flashy and violent world of Renaissance Europe.
The Washington Post Book World

An outstanding historian . . . [Fernndez-Armesto] introduces Amerigo Vespucci as an amazing Renaissance character independent of his names fameand does Fernndez-Armesto ever deliver.
Booklist (starred review)

Dazzling . . . an elegant tale of Vespuccis ability to transform himself from a merchant into an explorer and conqueror of new worlds.
Publishers Weekly (starred review)


Amerigo: The Man Who Gave His Name to America

Civilization of Europe in the Renaissance

Hale describes the end of “Christendom” and the beginning of a new understanding of the terms “Europe” and “European” during the period 1450-1620. He stresses the 16th and early 17th centuries, rather than 15th-century Italy, and is concerned not only with the “new age” of learning but with the characteristics of daily life among Europeans and the roots of contemporary Europe and its culture.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Exploring every aspect of art, philosophy, politics, life and culture between 1450 and 1620, this enthralling panorama examines one of the most fascinating and exciting periods in European history. “A rich, dense book which combines inspiring generalizations with idiosyncratic detail” -The Spectator. Photos.

Civilization of Europe in the Renaissance

  • 12 responses to "Amerigo: The Man Who Gave His Name to America Europe Portugal Felipe Fernandez-Armesto Random House Trade Paperbacks Reprint edition"

  • FutureUser
    20:00 on November 30th, 2011
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    Felipe has done an excellent job of writing a concise and beautifully articulate account on Amerigo, the man who gave his name to America. However, I think the subtitle should perhaps be- The man who finagled getting his name stamped upon America.

    This biography offers a wealth of information about Renaissance Florence, Seville and the famous characters of history that many know; yet, few seldom realize how much they overlapped each other. Due to a limited amount of factual documentation on Amerigo, Felipe needed to fill a book with additional facts, yet it was not done to simply fill out a volume, but rather to fill out the times, the mindset, and the world of Amerigo and his famous contemporaries. This includes Columbus, the Medici family, Toscanelli, Ferdinand and Isabella, as well as important men like Gianotto Berardi, the banker who along invested his life and financial resources for Columbus, but met financial disaster instead.

    Amerigo happened to work for Berardi, and after this financial debacle, he was forced to make an occupational shift in direction. That journey took him westward, in the footsteps of Columbus and eventually led to worldwide fame, as his name supplanted the New World’s rightful hero to indelibly mark two huge continents.

    We as Americans shall always ponder our nation blaringly sounding the name of the Italian adventurer Amerigo Vespucci, while lamenting that it should have been Columbus or Columbia or something similar. More astounding still is how Ferdinand and other monarchs were incapable of silencing Amerigo, or any other claimant from attaining such a colossal honor. The chain-reaction of publishers jumping on the profitable bandwagon all contributed to the most colossal domino effect in mapmaking history, one so strong that even kings could not prevent. The name America would prevail for eternity.

    The only disappointment was the very last pages where the author expressed some personal opinions about Western Civilization. He criticizes the Mediterranean Europeans as being lazy dregs that inherited almost everything from Asian influence, including the desire to explore. This is very shortsighted, for it negates the thousands of brilliant men that shaped our advanced civilization, which no Asian entity has ever matched. Meanwhile, the desire of Europeans to explore was limited due to the immense variety of peoples within the Mediterranean sphere. The Mediterranean coastal nations were a mixture of various Caucasians, from Portugal to Germany to Norway to Italy, along with a variety of North Africans, Arabs and Asians. This volatile area boomed in advances thus negating the need to go anywhere else. However, once the Muslims sacked Constantinople the need to trade with Asia prompted the desire to find another route, hence the age of exploration.

    That aside, overall, “Amerigo” is a very worthy read.

  • webdiva
    5:30 on December 1st, 2011
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    John Hale’s The Civilization of Europe in the Renaissance is a rambling, but engaging, work in which he attempts to explicate how Europeans living during the long-sixteenth century perceived and conceptualized Europe, the Renaissance, and civilization. Additionally, he investigates the relationships between these three concepts. The Civilization of Europe in the Renaissance makes connects seemly discrete people and events and debunks some common misconceptions about this time period.

    Hale’s section on Europe was especially insightful. He begins by asserting that the development of a European consciousness located in the area that we today recognize as Europe was not necessarily obvious at the time, nor was it inevitable. Hale argues that mapmaking, along with the Muslim threat, allowed Europeans to define themselves both positionally and ideologically. However, the various parts of the whole defined themselves in opposition to their neighbors. Hale’s amusing and detailed description of the European peoples’ stereotypes of each other bears a surprising resemblance to contemporary prejudices. This delightful section could benefit, however, from an investigation into the origins of these stereotypes as well as a discussion concerning the stereotypes’ correlation to the Renaissance reality.

    Naturally, in his discussion of the Renaissance, Hale particularly attends to humanism’s role. According to Hale, humanism was not a reaction against scholasticism; rather it was an evolution of it. He writes, “On the whole, however, the attack on scholasticism … was restricted to its emphasis on training the mind without affecting the heart” (197). Thus, Hale softens the picture of the arid scholastics, making them the forebears, not the antitheses, of humanist thinkers.

    Hale also puts Renaissance art in a helpful perspective. He critiques various works regarding their aesthetics and technical developments, and he also places them firmly in the context of when, where, and why they were made. Art had not reached the esoteric “for art’s sake” during the Renaissance. This reminder is important for those of us easily overcome by the masters’ genius. Hale writes, “In spite of our own homage, [the arts] were not then thought of as part of the equipment that kept civilized mankind barbarian-proof” (413).

    Hale’s discourse on how these men and women viewed civilization was helpful because he demonstrates that civilization did not equal society. The elites did not recognize the masses as being civilized, and they developed and refined their manners to distinguish themselves from the poorer strata. Barbarism was not simply on the outside, but civilized people felt the need to guard against degenerating into it. This view of civilization is at odds with the common conception of a monolithic Renaissance civilization.

    In The Civilization of Europe in the Renaissance, Hale seems very generous to the persons who populate his narrative. He resists criticizing them unduly, but instead views them as people of their time. However, Hale inexplicably treats John Calvin more heavy-handedly. Hale lays the “theological conundrum” of double-predestination at Calvin’s feet without acknowledging Luther’s explicit explication of the doctrine in On the Bondage of the Will (not to mention Augustine’s). Hale also makes the erroneous claim that “until Geneva burned Servetus the sects harassed and exiled rather than killed one another” (125). Zurich had been executing Anabaptists since 1526. Is this a prejudice on Hale’s part, or am I reading too much into him?

  • Obladi Oblada
    11:07 on December 1st, 2011
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    My second year history teacher in college used this book as our text book. Reading this book was like looking at history form the street level, enabling one to understand why they did what they did during that time. And it’s also very fun read.

  • Markoc
    13:34 on December 1st, 2011
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    It has been proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that Christopher Columbus (aka, Cristobal Colom) was indeed a venetian… of converso-jewish-catalan extraction. Neither he nor his heirs seemed to mind Vespucci’s “usurpation” which, by the way, has also been proved to be a fabrication. See excerpt below.

    The name America thus got placed upon several maps as an equivalent for what we call Brazil, and sometimes came to stand alone for what we call South America, but still signified only a part of the dry land beyond the Atlantic to which Columbus had led the way.”
    That there was no evil intention on Vespucci’s part is amply proved by the fact that, while he himself lived four years after the Introductio was published, a certain contemporary of his, one Ferdinand Columbus, who was most acutely interested in seeing justice done the name and deeds of his father, survived Vespucci twenty-seven years. He not only saw this book, but owned a copy, which, according to an autograph note on the flyleaf, he had bought in Venice in July, 1521, “for five sueldos.” This book is still contained in the library he founded at Seville, and as it was copiously annotated by him, it must have been carefully read; yet,
    [Pg 249]
    though he has the credit of having written a life of his father, Christopher Columbus, he makes no mention whatever of the “usurpation” by Vespucci.
    Ferdinand Columbus knew the Florentine, and was an intimate friend of his nephew, Juan Vespucci; yet the question seems never to have arisen between them as to the great discoverers’ respective shares of glory. The explanation lies in this fact: that Vespucci’s name had been bestowed upon a region far remote from that explored by his father, who had never sailed south of the equator. Notwithstanding the good feeling that prevailed between them, however, long after Ferdinand’s death, when the name America had become of almost universal application, the veteran Las Casas, in writing his great history, marvels that the son of the old Admiral could overlook the “theft and usurpation” of Vespucci. The old man’s indignation was great, for he was a stanch friend of Columbus, and revered his memory. He made out a very strong case against Vespucci–being in ignorance of the manner in which his name came to be given to the lands discovered by Columbus–and when, in 1601, the historian
    [Pg 250]
    Herrera, who made use of the Las Casas manuscripts, repeated his statements as those of a contemporary, all the world gave him credence.
    Vespucci’s name rested under suspicion during more than three centuries, and was not even partially cleared until 1837, when Alexander von Humboldt undertook the gigantic task of vindication. It was not so much to vindicate Vespucci, however, as to ascertain the truth, that Humboldt made the critical and exhaustive examination which appeared in his Examen Critique de l’Histoire de la Géographie de Nouveau Continent.
    Even Humboldt, however, did not secure all the evidence available, but by the discovery of valuable documents the missing links in the chain were supplied: by Varnhagen, Vespucci’s ardent eulogist, by Harrisse, and finally by Fiske. The last-named truthfully says: “No competent scholar anywhere will now be found to dissent from the emphatic statement of M. Harrisse–’After a diligent study of all the original documents, we feel constrained to say that there is not a particle of evidence, direct or indirect, implicating Amerigo Vespucci
    [Pg 251]
    in an attempt to foist his name on this continent.’” And moreover, “no shade of doubt is left upon the integrity of Vespucci. So truth is strong, and prevails at last.”
    This is the conclusion arrived at by the impartial historian, who, without disparaging the deeds of Columbus, without detracting in any manner from his great discoveries, has restored Amerigo Vespucci to the niche in which he was placed by the German geographers four hundred years ago, and from which he was torn by injudicious iconoclasts, fearful for the fame of Spain’s great Admiral.
    It is enough for Columbus to have discovered America; it was far more than Amerigo Vespucci deserved to have this discovery given his name, by which it will be known forever; but this honor, though unmerited, was at the same time unsought.

  • oldschool
    21:47 on December 1st, 2011
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    I write this just a few days after the death of Prof. Hale, and can only express agreement with what the other reviewers below have said. This book is a wonderful monument to a great historian and scholar, and is an unmitigated delight to read, and to return to.

  • David Tawil
    11:29 on December 2nd, 2011
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    Mr. Hale’s book is full on insight into the transformation that occurred in Europe during the Renaissance. His research is extensive, his analysis detailed, and his knowledge of the subject extensive. I feel that I really learned a lot about this interesting era in European history. Also, the author uses numerous illustrations and prints when discussing various points, which helped me a lot since I do not possess much of a background on this subject. The book will make for a most enjoyable read for anyone already familiar with this time period.

    For those of us who do not know a lot about the Renaissance, sections of the text can be challenging. As one other reviewer mentions, Hale takes a thematic approach, rather than a chronological one which did prove challenging for me. Also, some sections are rather “text book like”, and somewhat dull. Overall, I enjoyed the book, but I just found it more challenging to finish than other historical books that I have read.

    I recommend this book to anyone intersted in learning more about the Renaissance in Europe. If you do not know a lot about the subject, like myself, you may want to find a different starting point than this text. Otherwise, you may end up like me wondering how much you missed out based on your ignorance of the materials provided.

  • Cathy
    18:12 on December 3rd, 2011
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    Hale is the distinguished author of many books on the history of the Renaissance, and this work–written near the end of his career–is a synthesis of a lifetime of thought, study, and research on the subject. This is a masterful look at European civilization during the age we identify with the somewhat liquid term “Renaissance.”

    Hale’s approach is thematic rather than strictly chronological, and the general reader may find this a bit distracting if he does not have any previous knowledge of the history of the period. For that reader it may also be somewhat scholarly in tone, but it is not a tedious or dry read by any means. On the contrary, Hale’s wide range of learning and his use of many wonderful illustrations give the work a distinct and fascinating life, and an even flow that can be taken in easily-digestible chapters and sections. Each chapter is filled with Hale’s insight and gift for making complex issues accessible. This is no small task when dealing with a period as complicated and multi-faceted as the Renaissance. Hale’s grasp of the original sources is impressive, and he frequently allows them to speak for themselves, showing that we are not so far away from this period in our history (just as we are not so far from the world of classical antiquity which the Renaissance revived). The result is a magnificent study which looks at how Europe (and by extension the world) changed during the “long century” of 1450 to 1620: a period of tremendous discovery, violence and intellectual/artistic achievement.

  • Markita Heras
    12:46 on December 4th, 2011
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    John Rigby Hale (1922-1999) was a legendary Renaissance scholar, this was his last and probably greatest work. The title is an allusion to Jacob Burckhardt’s The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (1860) – which seems presumptuous considering Burkhardt is the single most important historian of the Renaissance; however it succeeds – Hale has written a modern up to date version of Burckhardt’s masterpiece. Just a few months after the final draft Hale had a debilitating stroke, with the final version touched up by his wife and some professional friends. It is one of those rare books that enters the realm of the mythological.

    Hale’s style can be compared to a French impressionistic painting. The texture and details awash over the reader like so many dots forming grand narratives and themes; one not so much understands in so many words, but experiences understanding through the revelation of others. Unlike many historical surveys which tell the reader how things were, Hale shows it through direct quotes from the people who lived the age. This is not always easy going, the mind has to constantly shift between examining the dots and the image it paints, sort of like the optical illusion of a vase, or two faces looking at one another, back and forth between perspectives, it is not a book for speedy reading but contemplation and absorption.

    Although many subjects are covered in this imaginative social survey, the consistent theme of “civilization” has a title role. In the Middle Ages, Europeans envisioned themselves as belonging to one of three “Estates”: The Clergy, The Nobles (warriors), The Peasants. The vast majority were peasants who worked on behalf of the other two estates, who in turn protected and prayed for them. Those who work, fight and pray lived ideally in a sort of balanced harmony according to Christian precepts. However the Peasant estate also included urban merchants, and with increased prosperity in the latter Middle Ages, the distinction between peasant and noble became blurred as merchants became as powerful as nobles (Medici). Other things changed like guns and longbows allowed peasants to fight just as well as knights (100 Years War), so the three estate view started to break down. By the Renaissance, with the rediscovery of Classical texts, they looked back and asked how the Ancients structured society and found it was based on a 2-tier system: civilized and “barbarian” (uncivilized). The 3-tier Christian view was gradually replaced with the 2-tier secular system, which we still use to this day (civil laws, clash of civilizations, uncivilized behavior, civics, etc..). Order, peace and harmony is maintained through civilization and all it entails (education, prosperity, freedom, etc), and what that meant was being worked out in this period.

    Hale shows a profound and noticeable change within a single generation starting around the middle of the 15th century, people were conscious and aware of a shift, often saying how they now lived in a modern era, one that surpassed even the ancients. Although they wrongly disparaged the Middle Ages as backwards (a sentiment that sadly still lives to this day among some scholars and the public alike), they were correct that things really did change. Hale’s primary theme are these changes as so many contrasting bright new colors on the pale canvas of tradition. By the end of the Thirty Years’ War in the early 17th century society had absorbed too many structural changes and “civilization” was collapsing – this lead to a retrenchment through the era of the “Old Regime” and finally, after a period of restoration and stability, an era of social and industrial Revolution in the late 18th and 19th centuries, the world we inherit.

  • Jolynn Ordona
    17:12 on December 4th, 2011
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    The late J. R. Hale was one of THE experts on the European Renaissance (literally writing the book on it — for Time-Life). That is what makes this book so confoundedly frustrating — any indivual snippet from it is fascinating, because Hale was an excellent popular writer as well as a learned historian, but the field is so chronologically and geographically vast, covering all of Europe for several centuries, that Hale, in order to emphasize a particular point, throws together information from different countries and different times in the same narrative, sometimes even in the same paragraph.

    As a “good read” the book is fine, until one starts getting caught up on the niggling suspicions that maybe Hale isn’t exactly levelling with the reader 100% of the time. Why is it necessary to bring up a fact from another country in another century so closely upon the heels of a particular statement? Were there no contemporary examples which could have been cited?

    Hale does a fine job of showing that the Renaissance was a universal European phenomenon, progressing at different rates in different countries, but what is less apparent is that when a bit of data from Northern Europe is brought in to bolster some bit of data from Italy, for example, which occured a century or more earlier, Italy was already in a different “world” than northern Europe at the time. Even explaining the problem of Hale’s melange is difficult: while Italy was experiencing its High Renaissance, northern Europe was still muddling through the Middle Ages; when northern Europe was experiencing Renaissance events which highlight and amplify the events which took place in Italy a century or more earlier, Italy was well into the modern age and its Renaissance glories were cannon-blasted memories.

    I repeat: this book IS a good read. What it is not, and should not by any means be considered, is a textbook or thorough history of the Reniassance. Any student who tries to write a paper on the Renaissance from this book is going to be in for a big surprise at grade time if the teacher is even remotely savvy to history.

    If one wants to follow a thread diligently, of course, one may go from citation to citation in the index, but that tends to defeat Hale’s purpose of writing an entertaining book — better by far to read some of Hale’s “serious” monographs or refer to the footnotes and check the bibliography.

    As a simple, relaxing reading experience, however, “Civilization of Europe in the Renaissance” is good brain candy for the intelligentsia, and for snagging a date with someone a cut above the intellectual average, it is much better beach reading than a Harold Robbins novel!

  • TrafficWarden
    17:37 on December 4th, 2011
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    “Amerigo Vespucci, who gave his name to America, was a pimp in his youth and a magus in his maturity,” is the first line of the book Amerigo: the Man Who Gave His Name to America by Felipe Fernandez-Armesto. It can be concluded that Fernandez-Armesto liked using words that the current readers would know. He divided his book into six chapters, each having their own sections. He claimed Amerigo to be a curious man with a dream of discovering India. Some historians think that Amerigo was not trying to steal Columbus’s thunder but Fernandez-Armesto argues that Amerigo was a compliment to Columbus by adding just as much information about Columbus as about Amerigo.

    Fernandez-Armesto first chapter, “The Sorcerer’s Apprenticeship” details the ties Amerigo had with the Medici, the all powerful family, which gave him right to education and his knowledge about India and the spice islands. He eventually left school after his father’s death to work. His grandfather had money and a home where the Vespucci family lived. His father worked under Lorenzo and his son Giovanni, and so had Amerigo. His ties with the Medici family were important to Amerigo interest in cosmology. Later in his life, Lorenzo sent him to work in the Medici Bank.
    Next, the second and the third chapter explain his life away from Italy and the new ideas Amerigo gained to start his voyage. He then left Italy to live his life. He became a financier and a commission agent dealing in jewelry in Seville, Spain. During his work, he gained knowledge of India and many riches that lies in the Indian Ocean. Amerigo was naturally good at reading the stars and wanted to go on a voyage. He went to South America and North America with Captain Pedro Alvares Cabral. Cabral was the second man to see America. When Amerigo went back to Europe, he went to Portugal. He told stories of The New World, which Columbus called it, “which the ancients labored to conquer” and the island of Taprobana on the bottom of the Sea of the Ganges (Bay of Bengal). Fernandez-Armesto also notes Columbus’s accomplishment in reference to Amerigo’s thinking. Fernandez-Armesto really believed that Amerigo was follower of Columbus.

    The last three chapters all portray Amerigo’s adventures and aftermaths. Amerigo spent time in North America living with the Natives. Before these adventures, the farthest Amerigo had travelled was from Florence to Barcelona. Amerigo had finally understood what Columbus meant while describing this amazing new world. There were many trees, fields made to be farmed upon, “raw nature” to the European Eye. He lived in a Native village for twenty-seven days to feel what they had to go through. There were intensive farming, ditches and canals, and hunting. He described it as “savage.” Many were cannibals and often fought amongst themselves or another tribe. Amerigo could not understand why many of the Natives were fighting because they do not have a kingdom. His European mind could not understand tribal conflict.

    After Amerigo returned to Italy, many did not believe his stories. Some portrayed him as Jesus, their savior for finding a brand new world. He published many books. Different critics commented on Amerigo as a person and also his writings. Fernandez-Armesto says that the real evidence towards how America was named has been forgotten but a possible reason is that Amerigo’s editor called this new land Americo while editing Amerigo’s book “Quatre Navigations D’ Americ Vespuce”. The name later turned feminine after the Europeans kept address it as a she, so it formed “America” instead of Americo.
    Fernandez-Armesto does a good job stating his thesis of Amerigo complimenting Columbus’s expedition but fails to detail Amerigo’s life and his thoughts. He only mentions briefly about his family and how he acted towards it. He also did not describe the childhood mishaps he did that he was criticized for in the beginning. When transitioning from his career as a financier to a voyager, he does not describe what Amerigo did or study in order to achieve his knowledge. He says that Amerigo as a cosmographer by birth and a magus when he was an adult.

    Fernandez-Armesto ends up detailing too much on other facts than Amerigo’s feelings. He mentions Columbus just as much as Amerigo, Amerigo a little more. Columbus was detailed very thoroughly and Amerigo complimenting it followed it. He describes the natural beauty around him using vivid imagery such as “…relatively dry, temperate part of the world…cotton on earth platform dredged from the water line…forest clearings fertilized by leaf mold…” and so on. He focuses on outside events so much that Amerigo is left outside the picture. When mentioning another important person affecting Amerigo, he goes on a life story describing the other person. It is unnecessary to describe the other person when most of the details are irrelevant. Amerigo is left out from the context too many times.

    The positive sides to Fernandez-Armesto’s book are that he thoroughly specifies his thesis in the beginning and supports it really well. Evidence is clearly shown that he complimented Columbus by rediscovering Columbus’s world and telling it to the world again. The book is very well organized in that it is chronologically written and also describing its influences. Fernandez-Armesto uses a variety of primary sources and secondary sources from Columbus’s and Amerigo’s original writings to modern historians to his own previous works. There are maps of Amerigo’s original drawings and also how others viewed him. There is one where a sixteenth century artist shows him as a magus with various instruments in a “Jesus” like pose. There are original letters and drawings by Amerigo of Brazil’s plantations and his adventures.

    Felipe Fernandez-Armesto explains the significance of Amerigo’s life in a comparison to other explorers. In Amerigo: The Man Who Gave His Name to America, Fernandez-Armesto details how influential Columbus was on Amerigo’s life and how Amerigo complimented Columbus’s expeditions. He wrote it very balanced but still supported Amerigo a little more than other. He expresses his opinions more than others do. Fernandez-Armesto used various sources and effectively described Amerigo’s life even though he strays off Amerigo sometimes.

  • John Baxter
    20:31 on December 4th, 2011
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    We just passed the 500th anniversary of a remarkable event: America was named America in April 1507. If the excitement of discovery around that time would have allowed Europeans to be fair and rational, we would be the United States of Columbia, perhaps, part of North Columbia with South Columbia below us on the maps. We have a Columbus Day as an annual holiday, but the tribute we give to Columbus’s fellow sailor and explorer is the name America, while most people have little knowledge of who Amerigo Vespucci was. In _Amerigo: The Man Who Gave His Name to America_ (Random House) by Felipe Fernández-Armesto, readers will understand how the name came to be, unfairly or not. In some ways, the name fits our nation pretty well; Amerigo was a trader and he had a talent for bustle and self-promotion, and for remaking himself when previous ventures failed. In other ways, we might not be so proud. Fernández-Armesto starts his entertaining book: “Amerigo Vespucci, who gave his name to America, was a pimp in his youth and a magus in maturity.” Vespucci’s life story is often a murky one, with voids that Fernández-Armesto points out, and it is made more difficult because Vespucci is part of the legends surrounding the European discovery of the New World, and there are still even those who insist that he, rather than Columbus, was the real discoverer.

    Born in 1454, Vespucci grew up in Florence. As a young man, He took on clients and bought and sold gems, wine, debts, or sexual favors for them. He traveled to Seville to work for a firm that had the contract on supplies for Columbus’s voyages. Vespucci, for whom the expeditions of others had not brought riches, joined an expedition himself in 1499, and he wrote about the voyage afterward as if he had been in command of the fleet which made it. He adopted a new persona as navigator, and he learned enough about handling the astrolabes and primitive, clumsy quadrants that he impressed those who watched him. It was almost all bogus, but he talked and acted with authority, and became an authority, the most trusted star-gazer in Europe. He published a bestseller about his travels, a book that inspired another in 1505, the _Soderini Letter_. This one, however, was a genuine fake, borrowing from other accounts. It purported to be by Vespucci and claimed that he was the true discoverer of the New World. It was the fake that was to make America’s name. Ptolemy’s _Geographia_ was still celebrated as a navigational standard, and in the town of St. Dié, between France and Germany, a new edition was being prepared. It was set to include updates from the new explorations when the geographers doing the updating received the _Soderini Letter_ and incorporated its “data” into the new work. Included was a huge world map, and since the Letter had claimed the true discovery of the New World should be credited to Vespucci, the area that we now know as Brazil was emblazoned with a version of Vespucci’s first name.

    Thus America was named to honor the author of the _Soderini Letter_, only Amerigo didn’t write it, for his discovery of the New World, only Amerigo didn’t discover it. The geographers in charge of the Ptolemy update and the huge map soon realized that they had been mistaken, but by then their work, too, had become a bestseller. The name stuck, and was reinforced when Mercator subsequently used it on both the northern as well as the southern part of the New World. Amerigo Vespucci, who didn’t live to see how the name prospered, would not have minded at all. “By leaving his mark on the map,” Fernández-Armesto writes, “Amerigo, the old magus, is still working his magic.”

  • nedendir
    21:57 on December 4th, 2011
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    In this book we learn of the mediocre Amerigo Vespucci who was at the right place at the right time in History to have a hemisphere named after him. Not much has ever been known of things man and this book, though shedding some light, confirms that this figure of history will not have a detailed biography written about him. The author does his best to explore the Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci life with all available references that could be found. The author describes Vespucci’s various careers as jewel trader, navigator, cosmographer, and author. We read of Amerigo’s business endeavors in the New World and his rivalry with Columbus. More importantly this biography document’s Vespucci’s lack of accomplishments and his knack for self-promotion.

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