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1421: The Year China Discovered America Paperback – January 6, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A former submarine commander in Britain's Royal Navy, Menzies must enjoy doing battle. The amateur historian's lightly footnoted, heavily speculative re-creation of little-known voyages made by Chinese ships in the early 1400s goes far beyond what most experts in and outside of China are willing to assert and will surely set tongues wagging. According to Menzies's brazen but dull account of the Middle Kingdom's exploits at sea, Magellan, Dias, da Gama, Cabral and Cook only "discovered" lands the Chinese had already visited, and they sailed with maps drawn from Chinese charts. Menzies alleges that the Chinese not only discovered America, but also established colonies here long before Columbus set out to sea. Because China burned the records of its historic expeditions led by Zheng He, the famed eunuch admiral and the focus of this account, Menzies is forced to defend his argument by compiling a tedious package of circumstantial evidence that ranges from reasonable to ridiculous. While the book does contain some compelling claims-for example, that the Chinese were able to calculate longitude long before Western explorers-drawn from Menzies's experiences at sea, his overall credibility is undermined by dubious research methods. In just one instance, when confounded by the derivation of cryptic words on a Venetian map, Menzies first consults an expert at crossword puzzles rather than an etymologist. Such an approach to scholarship, along with a promise of more proof to come in the paperback edition, casts a shadow of doubt over Menzies's discoveries. 32 pages of color illus., 27 maps and diagrams. Book-of-the-Month Club alternate.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Menzies makes the fascinating argument that the Chinese discovered the Americas a full 70 years before Columbus. Not only did the Chinese discover America first, but they also, according to the author, established a number of subsequently lost colonies in the Caribbean. Furthermore, he asserts that the Chinese circumnavigated the globe, desalinated water, and perfected the art of cartography. In fact, he believes that most of the renowned European explorers actually sailed with maps charted by the Chinese. Though most historical records were destroyed during centuries of turmoil in the Far East, he manages to cobble together some feasible evidence supporting his controversial conclusions. Sure to cause a stir among historians, this questionable tale of adventure on the high seas will be hotly debated in academic circles. Margaret Flanagan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 656 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (January 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006054094X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060540944
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (459 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,259,330 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

GAVIN MENZIES was born in 1937 and lived in China for two years before World War II. He joined the Royal Navy in 1953 and served in submarines from 1959 to 1970. In the course of researching 1421, he visited 120 countries, over 900 museums and libraries, and every major sea port of the late Middle Ages. He is married with two daughters and lives in North London.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

635 of 704 people found the following review helpful By Diogenes on March 21, 2004
Format: Paperback
Gavin Menzies is a charming, seductive, inventive story teller, but his book is just an elaborate literary hoax, and belongs on the fiction list.
Gavin claims he has real, tangible evidence. Not true. Just check out for yourself some of the sources he cites. His own sources do not support the claims he makes.
For example, at pp 201-2(hardcover) Gavin writes of a pulley "for hoisting sails" found on the beach at Neahkahnie, Oregon, about 60 miles south of me. I drove down there and spoke with the curator of the Tillamook County Pioneer Museum. He had talked with Gavin in 2002 and Wayne told Gavin the pulley had already been carbon dated (in 1993) to 1590; and, the wax was beeswax for candles, prized and common cargo for the Spanish trade galleons that traveled between the Philippines and the west coast of North America, on a regular basis, between 1564 and 1815. The pulley was from one of those Manila galleons. In his book (page520) Gavin lists as a source "Tales of the Neahkahnie Treasure", prepared by the Nehalem Valley Historical Society Treasure Committee, 1991, published by the Tillamook County Pioneer Museum. It clearly states (p5) the beeswax, not as Gavin states "paraffin wax" a hydrocarbon product, had been carbon dated to 1681. Further, a pollen study of the beeswax had revealed its source was northern Luzon in the Philippines where there was a certain variety of shrub the bees visited for pollen.
Gavin ignores the inconvenient facts, hides them from the reader, and writes as if he is just waiting for the lab to confirm the finding of some possible real Chinese evidence. It's not possible, as Gavin well knows, the lab work has long since been done and it does not fit his time frame.
For another example consider the Bimini road story.
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214 of 236 people found the following review helpful By William J. Poser on July 5, 2006
Format: Hardcover
The subject of this book, the Chinese exploratory voyages of the early 15th century, is an interesting one, and questions remain as to exactly how far they got and what they did. Unfortunately, there is little factual information in this book that is not to be found in other sources, and the novel claims are poorly substantiated. All too often, the "facts" cited are wrong, the nature of the argument Menzies means to make is unclear, or the evidence that he claims to exist is not actually produced. Let me illustrate from some of Menzies linguistic arguments. He claims that the Squamish language (which he mistakenly locates on Vancouver Island rather than on the coast of the mainland of British Columbia) contains no less than forty words that are identical with Chinese words. He does not cite any of the Squamish words and cites only three Chinese words. Not one of the three alleged Chinese words actually occurs in Chinese. At another point, he cites the fact that there is a village in Peru whose people speak Chinese. Aside from the questionable source of this claim, even if true, what would it prove? To constitute evidence that the Chinese had visited Peru prior to Columbus, he would have to show that the people in this village had spoken Chinese hundreds of years ago. He does not even assert this, much less provide evidence of it.

Menzies' own account of his research techniques leaves one gasping with incredulity at his incompetence. He claims to have inspected a stone inscription in the Cape Verde Islands in a language unknown to him. Thinking that it might be from India, he sends a photograph of it to the Bank of India. The Bank responds that the inscription is in Malayalam.
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212 of 242 people found the following review helpful By doomsdayer520 HALL OF FAME on September 7, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I was not expecting to believe all the claims in this book, though I was intrigued by the possibility of unexpected new findings about the age of exploration. The Europeans were clearly not the first to sail great distances and discover new lands. You would have once been dismissed as a crackpot for claiming that the Vikings reached the Americas 500 years before Columbus, but that's now accepted history. There's also plenty of proof that the Chinese were regularly sailing to the Middle East and East Africa centuries before Europeans could even leave their own shores. But this book, claiming that the Chinese momentously and influentially circumnavigated the globe in 1421-1423, is a disaster of hyperbolic claims and selective interpretation of historical evidence. That's because Gavin Menzies started with an idea, compiled evidence that seemed to point in the right direction, and convinced himself that he was finding mindboggling breakthroughs. But there is little reason for us to be as convinced as he is.

You can see plenty of other reviews (here and elsewhere) debunking the many, many research errors committed by Menzies. Most of these criticisms are more believable to me than Menzies' assertions. On a higher level I'll add that Menzies is an unabashed member of the "incredible coincidence" school of history. In just a couple of examples, among multitudes, he claims that the presence of Asiatic birds in South America means "the conclusion is inescapable" of visiting Chinese sailors; or an ice-free depiction of Antarctica on a map "confirm[s]" that the Chinese were there during a January. Menzies also unquestioningly accepts Chinese court histories as accurate, without considering the possibility that they may be distorted by embellishments or state propaganda.
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