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on March 21, 2011
So, according to the author, 1492 is the year that the world changed. Given Columbus' first voyage to the New World, it's easy to see how this can be the case. And yet it appears that in the rest of the world, too, there was much change: this book is refreshingly non-Europe-centric. The great kingdoms in Africa that might have halted the spread of Islam or Christianity faded, and the continent was soon divided between the two faiths. China's great fleets that established its cultural dominance all over Asia ground to a halt, granting the field to fresh interlopers to take over trade and power over the region. The merchant marines of the Indian Ocean were never able to supply the demand of their states, and so began to welcome the advent of European traders, despite the newcomers' savagery and greed. Great powers in the Americas remained inward-looking and self-sustaining, and found no reason to venture into the ocean to establish their dominions. And so the scene was set for the gradual takeover of the world by the denizens of the relatively poorest tip of Eurasia.

All this didn't, of course, happen in the year 1492. In fact, as Fernandez-Armesto points out, that year itself is loosely defined - what was 1492 in one part of Europe wasn't necessarily the same year in another; and indeed, in the rest of the world, completely different calendars were used. And to be sure, it's difficult to restrict the narrative to the events of this "year", and so the author is forced to provide extensive backgrounds for each part of the world leading up to that crucial period. And that's what makes this book so interesting and readable. It's a very good summary of the state of the world at the time. Worth your time.
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on September 18, 2010
The year 1492 is best known for Columbus' discovery of America (though he thought he had got to China); also for the conquest of Granada by the "Catholic Monarchs", which put an end to the Moorish civilisation in Spain (which had been rather tolerant), replacing it with a very intolerant one (NB the Inquisition and the eviction of the Jews). Even if you think you already know about these events, Fernandez-Armesto is well worth reading.
His discussion of the earlier Spanish colonisation of the Canary Islands, though it comes in a separate chapter, provides an interesting preamble to the subsequent overthrow of the Inca and Aztec civilisations.
At least equally important, and much less well-known, were events in the Far East and around the Indian Ocean, which the book discusses at some length. Around this time, China withdrew from imperial ambitions, while Japan "crumbled into ineffectiveness", leaving that very important area open to subsequent European trading and colonisation.
There is also a chapter about events in Africa in and around 1492, which shaped the religious map of the continent, Islam dominating across the Sahara, in the Sahel and along the Indian Ocean coast, with Christianity preponderant elsewhere.
The author's breadth of knowledge is impressive - he has a Spanish father, an English mother and lives in the USA, which may contribute to this. Though I found myself skipping some parts - such as the dynastic vagaries of Imperial China - I found his book both readable and instructive.
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VINE VOICEon July 24, 2012
This readable book contains a chapter or two on numerous parts of the world (Spain, Africa, Italy, Russia, East Asia, and South America, and the Near East). Its primary message is that after 1492, the world started to get more "globalized"- that is, contacts between Europe and the rest of the world (especially the Americas of course) began to increase. The author also seeks to explain why the European nations dominated maritime exploration; he suggests that China was too focused on border disputes to invest in a navy, and that the Ottoman Empire's geographic position made long-range water travel difficult.
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on June 15, 2010
i enjoyed very much this book and found it extremely appealing and original. As a scientist and someone working on complex systems, ecological modeling and technological change, I found the view inspiring. I think this type of book would be a great introduction to historical change at the largest scale. Very much recommendable reading.
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on November 12, 2012
In terms of the sheer breath of knowledge, Felipe Fernanedez-Armesto has done an impressive job with 1492. Covering nearly every continent, Fernandez-Armesto attempts to show how the world was on the crux of change in and around 1492. Just immersing in the histories of all these different regions was reason enough to read this book. I particularly enjoyed the chapter on the Indian Ocean Rim and was fascinated by the travels of Zheng He, whom I had never heard of before. However, not all his chapters are convincing. And many of the chapters are dense with information that is often not related to the thesis at all. I found the book difficult to read because of this and the chapter on China, Japan, and Korea was exceptionally tedious. His thesis is definitely provocative, although the year 1492 may be somewhat arbitrary. However, I think the book is worth a read for its fresh perspective on the modern era. And I think most people will learn quite a bit about those areas of the world that we seldom pay attention to.
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on January 10, 2014
Even though I am a businessman, I love reading history books. This one is superb in presenting so many things that happened in various parts of the world at around the same time. A unique approach to focus the book on a date that almost everyone recognizes. This is a fantastic read and well worth the time.

Kent Millington
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on March 4, 2016
Some time ago, while reading a history of the Wars of the Roses, I saw that Edward IV’s queen, Elizabeth Woodville, died in 1492. By this time, Henry VII was on the throne, and he will soon be succeeded by his son, Henry VIII. The Wars of the Roses, which had occupied much of England’s 15th century, were over. Elizabeth Woodville, I thought, was the last medieval.

Not long after her death, Columbus took a little trip that changed the face of the known universe, with repercussions that rippled back across the old world changing trade routes and power centers for centuries to come.

So when I saw this title, 1492: The Year the World Began by Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, it was the work of a moment to scoop it up. And one of the first insights I found was this: Life forms and cultures that had grown apart and developed in relative isolation over the centuries

had diverged so much that when they began to reestablish contact, they at first had difficulty recognizing each other as belonging to the same species or sharing the same moral community.

And that’s not the only passage relevant to our own times. I paraphrase: Expansion and resistance sparked civil strife across the globe, militarizing societies, training men in warfare, and nurturing arms industries, resulting in disrupted economies and entire peoples forced into predation.

Fernandez-Armesto’s narrative is not one of blame and shame. It is a story of the limits of human understanding when faced with the totally unexpected. We should be reminded of this every time we read or watch a piece of science fiction: when confronted with what appears to be alien, we will still tend to shoot and ask questions later, later being an undefined point on an infinite scale.

The scope is wider than can really be encompassed fully in one book – the story ranges from Western Europe to the Middle East, from Africa to China, from the New World to India. The cast of characters runs the gamut from Columbus to Savonarola to Mehmet II. Nevertheless, there is enough here to provide a varied luncheon for some interesting thought.
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on April 12, 2014
Held my attention most of the time. I was a little disappointed that there was no discussion of native North Americans or Australians. There was a lack of information on central Africa and a few places in Europe but overall, it was a good read. It opened my mind to appreciate the way human nature has always been. I feel closer to the past now.
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on June 11, 2015
Mr. Fernandez-Armesto's amazing "guided tour" of and into one of humankind's most pivotal years is an astounding voyage! To be able to discover and comprehend events occurring in 1492- navigational, religious, international, monetary, geographical, human relations, political, geo-political, etc. - which directly touch upon events occurring in 2015 is nothing more than a transcendent experience.

This book only bogs down in minutiae in very few places; it is, overall, a brilliant, important and magnificent historical work...and a HELL of a tremendous read!
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on April 2, 2013
This book covers the events of 1492 and that year alone. Of course starting with the voyage of Columbus and other events that took place in Spain and the expulsion of the Sephardim, the fall of Islam in Western Europe and ultimately confusing conflicts in Italy of that time with their cities but especially Florence the Medici and Savonarola. There are other issues that are exposed, all in a sober, without comment or aggregates or opinions of the author. It is a descriptive story of the year, mostly in Europe. Be read very well.
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