In 1507, European cartographers were struggling to redraw their maps of the world and to name the newly found lands of the Western Hemisphere. The name they settled on: America, after Amerigo Vespucci, an obscure Florentine explorer.
In Amerigo , the award-winning scholar Felipe Fernández-Armesto answers the question “What’s 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 sometime slaver and small-time jewel trader; a contemporary, confidant, and rival of Columbus; an amateur sorcerer who attained fame and honor by dint of 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 exploration–and as a man of genuine achievement as a voyager and chronicler of discovery. A product of the Florentine Renaissance, Amerigo in many ways was like his native Florence at the turn of the sixteenth century: fast-paced, flashy, competitive, acquisitive, and violent. His ability to sell himself–evident now, 500 years later, as an entire hemisphere that he did not “discover” bears his name–was legendary. But as Fernández-Armesto ably demonstrates, there was indeed some fire to go with all the smoke: In addition to being a relentless salesman and possibly a ruthless appropriator of other people’s efforts, Amerigo was foremost a person of unique abilities, courage, and cunning. 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.
“A dazzling new biography . . . an elegant tale.”
– Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“An outstanding historian of Atlantic exploration, Fernández-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 fame–and does Fernández-Armesto ever deliver.”
– Booklist (starred review)
From the Hardcover edition.
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|Title of History eBook: Amerigo|
|Release Date: 12-18-2008|
|Allowed Countries (hover)|
|Publisher: Random House|
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THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICESHIP
Florence, c. 1450–1491 Ú Launching the quest for “honour and fame”
Heroism and villainy shade into each other. So do salesmanship and sorcery. Amerigo Vespucci was both hero and villain—but I expect readers of this book already know that. My purpose is to show that he was also both salesman and sorcerer. He was a merchant who became a magus.
This book tells the story of how that strange mutation happened and tries to help readers understand why. The naming of America was a by- product of the story: a measure of the success of Amerigo’s self- salesmanship, an effect of the spellbinding nature of his sorcery. Salesmanship and sorcery require some of the same qualities: quicksilver tongue, featherlight fingers, infectious self-confidence. Vespucci began to acquire those qualities in the city of his birth and education. In Renaissance Florence, where life was fast-paced, flashy, competitive, consumerist, and violent, prestidigitators’ skills came easily. That was just as well, because you needed them to survive.
The Magical City
In this city of forty thousand people, as much wealth was concentrated as in any spot in Europe. Florentine prosperity was a triumph against the odds, a classic response to a challenging environment. The city became a great riverside manufactory of fine wools and silks, despite having an unreliable river that habitually ran dry in summer. Florence became a great international trading state, with its own fleets, despite its location fifty miles from the sea, where enemies could easily control outlets and approaches. Fifteenth-century Florentines took pride in their pecul...