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Irresistible North: From Venice to Greenland on the Trail of the Zen Brothers Hardcover – Deckle Edge, May 24, 2011


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Irresistible North: From Venice to Greenland on the Trail of the Zen Brothers + Chasing the Rose: An Adventure in the Venetian Countryside
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (May 24, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 030726985X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307269850
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 5.9 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,163,880 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

“Captivating. . . . Di Robilant cleverly weaves an original work of history and a travel book into one fascinating tale of mystery, adventure and intrigue.”
Providence Journal

“Di Robilant is a fine, solid researcher and a thoughtful, conscientious interpreter.”
The New York Times Book Review
 
“Di Robilant has a flair for the evocative detail. . . . His willingness to travel to places far off the beaten path enlivens his account, giving it forward momentum.”
Los Angeles Times
 
“While historians and cartographers will continue their challenges, readers will be intrigued and perhaps convinced by this very readable account.”
The Washington Times

About the Author

Andrea di Robilant was born in Italy and educated at Columbia University, where he specialized in international affairs. He is the author of two previous books, A Venetian Affair and Lucia: A Venetian Life in the Age of Napoleon. He currently lives in Rome with his wife and two sons.

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Customer Reviews

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In this book he interweaves the two genres.
Robin Navrozov
A `curious map' published by a 16th century Venetian at the back of a book he wrote is, in a sense, what drives the fascinating narrative of "Venetian Navigators".
an Amazon shopper
The author brings the reader along on the research process.
S. Smith-Peter

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Robin Navrozov on June 9, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This is a book which touches on many themes. It is not easy to categorise. Andrea di Robilant is an historian and a journalist. In this book he interweaves the two genres. Perhaps the "Venetian Navigators" of the title also includes himself, as subject as well as author. Di Robiliant, who is half Venetian and half American, takes up the quest of the Zen explorers, suggested to him by a chance encounter with an American tourist at the Marciana Library in Venice, which piques his curiosity. A few days later, he happens to notice the Zen palace near the Campo dei Gesuiti, "embellished with Leventine motifs" and a "soot-covered plaque" dedicated to "Nicolo and Antonio Zen, wise and courageous navigators to the northern seas."
Di Robilant's previous books have all been based on his own illustrious Venetian family, and so what he sets out to explore here is, in more ways than one, uncharted waters. It is a controversial story based on a book printed in 1558 written by Nicolo Zen, which itself is based on the long-lost letters that were written by his great-great-great grandfather, one of the two Zen brothers who travelled to the North, to Orkney, the Faroes, Iceland and almost certainly as far as Greenland, though almost certainly not to North America (which was the premise of the American tourist's quest).
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By an Amazon shopper on June 6, 2011
Format: Hardcover
A `curious map' published by a 16th century Venetian at the back of a book he wrote is, in a sense, what drives the fascinating narrative of "Venetian Navigators". The old Venetian book was about voyages made by the author's ancestors in the late 14th century to the Far North, and the map, constructed on the basis of surviving fragments of their accounts, offered much new information about that part of the world. As nations competed to expand their empires, sending out explorers and keeping secret their findings, the map and the narrative of the voyage upon which it was constructed stirred up intense international rivalries. Some, like Queen Elizabeth I of England and her most learned advisor John Dee, looked upon the map and narrative as auspicious to expansionist endeavors. Later, others, with rival political agendas, would denounce the narrative as `a tissue of lies'. In the meantime, that map went on to play a prominent role in the history of map making and in particular in the way the icy waters and land masses of the North Atlantic were perceived to be configured for a very long time. Di Robilant traces over two hundred years of political schemings and international rifts that together the map and book stirred up.

Di Robilant happened upon the subject of his book quite a chance, and found himself, unaware, drawn into its mysteries. This was not a book he had been planning to write. His curiosity to investigate the claims made by those early modern Venetians, including their having reached the Americas a century before Columbus, led him on his own explorations northward into wondrously remote places. It is truly a pleasure to follow him on his own journeys and share his thoughts and scrupulous research as he gathers and pieces together his evidence like the best of sleuths.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By S. Smith-Peter on February 24, 2013
Format: Paperback
This book traces the research and writing of this book, which sounds somewhat circular, but is very interesting in practice. We start with the author being asked about the Zen Brothers and their map of northern Europe and possibly North America a century before Columbus. The author goes from being a skeptic about the map and the Zen brothers' journey to being pretty convinced that they did it, although they weren't great map makers and put together several land masses into one rather than the islands that they were.

I found the part where the Zen brothers meet the Vikings in North America to be the most interesting. To have an eyewitness account of these settlements is fascinating. The dynamism of the North Atlantic during this period is really striking.

The author brings the reader along on the research process. This makes it engaging and has the side benefit of making his conclusions be the reader's as well, since we've both been on the same journey.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Grey Wolffe VINE VOICE on June 18, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Di Robilant states that the basis for the book is his finding of a 1558 volume in the Venice Maritime Museum with a map of the north atlantic. The book proposes that two Venetian brother (Antonio and Nicolo Zen) traveled to North American in the late fourteenth century, one hundred years before Columbus and Cabot. The book was written by a great-great-great-great-grandson of Antonio's, from damaged letters that were in the family archives. Though there are implausible places on the map, much could be made of the visit to Greenland and lands to the 'west'.

Di Robilant sets out to follow in the steps (or sails) of the Zen brothers. He looks to 'prove' that some of the narrative can be verified, thereby proving that the Zen brothers did make their historical trip. It turns into quite an adventure for di Robilant, and he is able to prove that some of the descriptions in the 'book' are true and were not known to geographers in the fourteenth century. In between we get some interesting historical perspective as to the rise and fall of the Norwegian Kingdom and Henry Sinclair of the Orkney Islands. Di Robilant makes use of the information from one of the many defenders of the Zen brothers to show that the descriptions of lands west of Greenland can be shown to have been Newfoundland, Labrador and maybe even parts of maritime Canada.

I would think that it would be inconceivable to believe that the Norseman, who had moved constantly west would have stopped at Greenland. Considering that it was almost a thousand miles to Greenland from the British Isles, another hundred or so miles west to Baffin Island and the North American coast would seem like a sunday jaunt.
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