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

by Toby Lester

Book, 2009



Call number

E18 .L47


Publisher Unknown


A chronicle of the early sixteenth-century creation of the Waldseemüller map offers insight into how monks, classicists, merchants, and other contributors from earlier periods shaped the map's creation.

User reviews

LibraryThing member DirkHurst
So much more than a story about a map. Or so much more of a story than you thought a map could tell. I'll have to go see the real thing at the Library of Congress sooner rather than later.
LibraryThing member lmcclain
I don't read a lot of non-fiction, but this is one of the best books I have read in a long time. It reads like non-fiction, but the information is fascinating. It's really a history of the early mapmakers, but it has so much more.
LibraryThing member wolffamily
Very informative book, filled with details (which I like!). Tells of the beginning of mass produced maps, which also corresponds to when North America is discovered. Very well written. - Greg
LibraryThing member RockStarNinja
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 minute of what else I can say about this book but there isn't anymore I need to add, there's nothing else to say, it's just that good a book.… (more)
LibraryThing member multiplexer
I read history books the way others read genre fiction. Some of them are well-written and some not, some well-sourced and some not. Sometimes a book claiming to be a work of historical scholarship is actually a political screed. When I read one well-written, well-sourced, and about a subject not often tread, I am in my happy place. The Fourth Part of the World is one of those books and it's about maps.

To be precise, it is about one map: the first map in the world to name the New World "America." But to get to that point, one has to go back in time and start with the Medieval maps of the 12th century and slowly move the clock forward through the Golden Horde and the Crusades. The Travels of Marco Polo and "the Book" -- no authoritative version of the travels of Marco Polo exists but any number of versions await a reader's pleasure. The endless fascination and eternal quest to find Prester John, an imaginary king with an imaginary army waiting just over the hills to come to the assistance of the Crusaders and who existed in every unexplored corner of every map. The re-discovery of Greek in Western Europe, lost for a thousand years, and the translation of Claudius Ptolemy's Geographie, a book with instructions on how to draw maps, described latitude and longitude, and with 8000 places in the ancient world. Great convocations on religious matters where men of learning got together and, for the first time in dark rooms, discussed the forgotten philosophies and mathematics of the ancient world as they were feverishly translated, and exchanged books. The printing press. The invention of the Caravel. Dreams of Japan. The Portuguese and Africa and what they found there. The first trip around the Cape of Good Hope. The men of Bristol who saw something, once, a long stretch of coastline while chasing schools of cod. Columbus. John Cabot. Amerigo Vespucci. de Medicis and Papal Spies and secret societies of Royal mapmakers and the quest for the way to India. Lies and false letters and Monarchies jostling to lay hands on the New World.

And it all comes together with two men in a small town outside of Strassburg, one a philosopher and one a cartographer, who had access to a printing press, a stolen map of the New World, and a set of forged letters full of imaginary extra adventures of Amerigo Vespucci. They fell in love with the alliteration of Africa and Asia and Europe and, with small metal letters and newly translated Latin poetry in their heads, named the new world America. It was a best seller for twenty years but maps being what maps are and they wore out as new ones appeared. The map disappeared from the face of the Earth until one copy complete, in tact, and whole, found... and now in the Library of Congress.

The book ends with a very nice touch of the impact of the maps of the New World on Nicolaus Copernicus who quotes much of the intro text to the first true world map in his On the Revolutions. It leaves proof that, while perhaps not all of his theories of the Earth revolving around the Sun came from this source, it had bearing on his thinking. With the Fourth Part of the World, the old Aristotelean view of the world no longer worked. And if it didn't work, what else about how the world worked was outright wrong.

The Fourth Part of the World is terrific. For anyone interested in the history of maps and learning in Western Europe, or the Age of Discovery, I can completely recommend this book. It's a fun read, it's well written, it's incredibly well sourced, it is full of pictures of maps to help with the text, and it's all around great.

Fantastic. An easy 5 star rating.

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LibraryThing member pbjwelch
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 never leave my library shelves. As other reviewers have noted, this is far more than a history of the first map to specify 'America' and credit Amerigo Vespucci with its discovery (and I would heartily recommend a title change when the book is reprinted, which I am sure it will be). It covers more than the history of early exploration and map-making; the great explorers of Spain, Portugal and Italy; the early philosophers and cartographers (Ptolemy, Strabo); the emergence of the printing press and its role in spreading a new world of enquiry that would develop into the a great humanist movement; the politics and compromises of competing nations and explorers. All of these are interwoven into a rich, wondrous tale that is full of fascinating insights into the age. Everyone (I hope) knows the story of Bartholomeu Dias and his rounding the Cape of Good Hope in 1488, but how many of us knew that he was the Portuguese captain lying at anchor off the coast of Portugal who spotting a Spanish ship in its waters, boarded the ship to challenge its presence ... to encounter Christopher Columbus, returning from his first trip to the Indies! Every school teacher of history and geography needs to read this book to understand how the subject of geography should be taught--not as the names of rivers and mountains and crops, but as a vast net of exploration, enquiry, coincidences, hard work, disappointments, happenstance, perseverance and at times just blind luck.

I am a lover of global history with a special interest in Asia (and early maps), but anyone who recalls even the remotest bits of their early childhood education will find this book an exciting intellectual upgrade that pays off. It not only asks the questions we were usually too slothful to ask (primarily, "Why?") but entices us into opening atlases, pulling other reference works off the shelves, or reflecting on long-forgotten topics (how was the longitude problem resolved?). A special thanks as well to author Lester, for including the little linguistic asides that share with readers the reason we talk of finding our way as 'orienting ourselves' (because in medieval Europe, "East represented the origin of things", p. 32)--which is why East was placed at the top of ancient maps rather than North; or the clever 'joke' within the name 'America'; or why we speak of "spheres of influence" (p. 102).

This is the single best book I have ever found that covers the history of early global maps, early European thought, exploration, and the men (where were the women?) who were its key movers. Well researched and beautifully written, it's a page-turner. I loved every page of it and when I finished, I turned to the beginning and began reading it all over again.
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LibraryThing member rodweston
This is an astonishing book that brought new perspective to me with respect to how the ancients and the Middle Ages Europeans viewed the world. The concept of another, hitherto unseen and unknown part of the world brought both eagerness and consternation to those Europeans whose entire world-view sprang from their theological perspective, literally placing themselves at the center of the world and of the universe. Then, as the profit potential became apparent, each country attempted to monopolize their new discoveries, even to the point of making it a capital offense to smuggle maps out of the country! Fascinating read, evidently well-researched. I can't recommend it highly enough.… (more)

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