The Fourth Part of the World: The Race to the Ends of the Earth, and the Epic Story of the Map That Gave America Its Name

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Simon and Schuster, Nov 3, 2009 - History - 480 pages
6 Reviews
"Old maps lead you to strange and unexpected places, and none does so more ineluctably than the subject of this book: the giant, beguiling Waldseemüller world map of 1507." So begins this remarkable story of the map that gave America its name.

For millennia Europeans believed that the world consisted of three parts: Europe, Africa, and Asia. They drew the three continents in countless shapes and sizes on their maps, but occasionally they hinted at the existence of a "fourth part of the world," a mysterious, inaccessible place, separated from the rest by a vast expanse of ocean. It was a land of myth—until 1507, that is, when Martin Waldseemüller and Matthias Ringmann, two obscure scholars working in the mountains of eastern France, made it real. Columbus had died the year before convinced that he had sailed to Asia, but Waldseemüller and Ringmann, after reading about the Atlantic discoveries of Columbus’s contemporary Amerigo Vespucci, came to a startling conclusion: Vespucci had reached the fourth part of the world. To celebrate his achievement, Waldseemüller and Ringmann printed a huge map, for the first time showing the New World surrounded by water and distinct from Asia, and in Vespucci’s honor they gave this New World a name: America.


The Fourth Part of the World
is the story behind that map, a thrilling saga of geographical and intellectual exploration, full of outsize thinkers and voyages. Taking a kaleidoscopic approach, Toby Lester traces the origins of our modern worldview. His narrative sweeps across continents and centuries, zeroing in on different portions of the map to reveal strands of ancient legend, Biblical prophecy, classical learning, medieval exploration, imperial ambitions, and more. In Lester’s telling the map comes alive: Marco Polo and the early Christian missionaries trek across Central Asia and China; Europe’s early humanists travel to monastic libraries to recover ancient texts; Portuguese merchants round up the first West African slaves; Christopher Columbus and Amerigo Vespucci make their epic voyages of discovery; and finally, vitally, Nicholas Copernicus makes an appearance, deducing from the new geography shown on the Waldseemüller map that the earth could not lie at the center of the cosmos. The map literally altered humanity’s worldview.

One thousand copies of the map were printed, yet only one remains. Discovered accidentally in 1901 in the library of a German castle it was bought in 2003 for the unprecedented sum of $10 million by the Library of Congress, where it is now on permanent public display. Lavishly illustrated with rare maps and diagrams, The Fourth Part of the World is the story of that map: the dazzling story of the geographical and intellectual journeys that have helped us decipher our world.
 

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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - pbjwelch - LibraryThing

The librarian who put this book on the 'discard-for sale' shelf should be fired, but the library's loss was my gain--for US$1 I acquired one of the most fascinating and readable discoveries that will ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - RockStarNinja - LibraryThing

This book was extremely interesting and I couldn't put it down. When it was over I found myself wanting to read more and have the rest of the history of the Americas mapped. I was thinking for a ... Read full review

Contents

Preface
Prologue Awakening
OLD WORLD Chapter Five PART ONE Seeing Is Believing
Chapter Two Scourge of
Chapter Three The Description of the World
Chapter Four Through the Ocean
NEW WORLD Chapter Sixteen PART TWO Amerigo
Chapter Seven Ptolemy the Wise
Chapter Twelve Cape of Storms
Chapter Thirteen Colombo
Chapter Fourteen The Admiral
Chapter Fifteen ChristBearer
Chapter Seventeen Gymnasium
Chapter Eighteen World Without
Chapter Nineteen Afterworld
Epilogue The Way of the World

Chapter Eight The Florentine Perspective
Chapter Nine Terrae Incognitae
Chapter Ten Into African Climes
Chapter Eleven The Learned
Acknowledgments
Works Cited
Further Reading
Index

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About the author (2009)

Toby Lester is the author of The Fourth Part of the World (2009) and a contributing editor to The Atlantic. A former Peace Corps volunteer and United Nations observer, he lives in the Boston area with his wife and three daughters. His work has also appeared on the radio program This American Life.

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