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The Tropics of Empire: Why Columbus Sailed South to the Indies (Transformations: Studies in the History of Science and Technology) First Edition Edition

1 customer review
ISBN-13: 978-0262232647
ISBN-10: 0262232642
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Editorial Reviews


In this challenging book, Nicolás Wey Gómez proves something everyone thought was impossible: there are useful new things to say about Columbus.

(Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, Department of History, Tufts University)

The Tropics of Empire is an extraordinary work of history, learned, imaginative, and immensely revealing. Nicolás Wey Gómez recreates the complex and now forgotten world of cosmological and geographical learning within which Columbus planned his voyage to Asia. Through close reading of a vast range of sources he shows us exactly why Columbus thought he could sail south, as well as west, to Asia, and how he envisioned the material and human world that he would find there. Wey Gómez makes clear that Columbus's wide reading and speculative thinking had dramatic consequences in the real world, not only for him but for the inhabitants of the Americas.

(Anthony T. Grafton, Henry Putnam University Professor of History, Princeton University)

This work is a significant milestone in the study of Christopher Columbus, his psyche, and the academic pursuit of history in general.

(Clinton R. Long, Fordham University The European Legacy)

[A] hefty and impressive study executed with erudition, skill and considerable insight... Those who believed, following the Columbus quincentennial, that there was little left to say about a Genoese sailor's extraordinary adventures overseas will now be convinced otherwise.

(Neil Safier American Scientist)

The Tropics of Empire deserves to become a landmark in the study of the inaugural stirrings of European overseas expansion.

(Gabriel Paquette The Times Literary Supplement)

Mr. [Wey] Gómez's volume... offer[s] tremendous insight into the prevailing medieval understanding of the shape of the world Columbus encountered and absorbed.

(Alfred W. Crosby The New York Sun)

About the Author

Nicolás Wey Gómez is Professor of History at the California Institute of Technology.


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Product Details

  • Series: Transformations: Studies in the History of Science and Technology
  • Hardcover: 616 pages
  • Publisher: The MIT Press; First Edition edition (June 13, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262232642
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262232647
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 2.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,170,793 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

0 of 4 people found the following review helpful By DENNIS ROHATYN on January 3, 2015
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The author writes: " . . . for obvious reasons . . . Columbus preferred to attribute to the lands he had discovered a temperateness
that in every way alluded to the general perfection of Eden" (224). In other words, he got lost, lucked out, then made the best of it.
Likewise, " . . . even as the explorer Columbus saw himself southing through marvelous suburbs of a miraculous Eden, the colonizer
Columbus would continue to see, and to treat, its peoples as the childish or monstrous inhabitants at the mouth of Hell" (434). Thus,as Montaigne said a century later, "they don't wear britches": they're naked and unashamed, so they must all be devils, Satan's tools. Every sentence in this brick of a book is like that: clumsy, verbose, stuffed with pedantry, and flatulent. The simplest points get statedin the most complicated, roundabout way, Trivialities are conflated with profundity. And everything Columbus did is part of a plan, or stems from a world-view which is oppressive yet in its own way consistent, or at least consistent with European aims (settlement, enslavement, conquest) and vile racist mythology. The denunciation may be accurate, but the plan was botched,
if there ever was one. By making the whole thing seem foreordained, Gomez converts Catholicism into Calvinism, as if foreseeing
the Reformation. By imposing a telos where there was only greed, or avarice and ambition, Gomez gives Columbus too much credit
for being the devil himself, and pays little or no attention to the vagaries of nature, as opposed to a priori rules, principles, systems.
For all of his erudition, Gomez would benefit from reading Machiavelli on fortune, Thucydides on the relation between chance and
fate, or Nick Herbert's reliable intro.
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