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The World on Cusp of Change? Perhaps
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.