Sunday, January 2, 2011

Big Book Read #17

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

This book took me absolutely AGES to finish. It was interesting, well-paced, and extremely informative but for some reason I read it on and off for WEEKS before I was able to conquer it.

This book explores the history of cartography leading up to the creation of the Waldseemuller Map of 1507; the first map to use the word “America” for the bits of land being discovered across the ocean from Europe. The Waldseemuller Map now resides in the Library of Congress, but the extraordinary journey it took to get there is one of the best parts of Lester’s book.

Lester starts at the beginning, in ancient times, and over time describes the ever-changing worldview of philosophers, geographers, cartographers, and explorers. It was a long and complicated process that led to our modern picture of our earth. Even the Waldseemuller Map only shows America as a strip of land in what is today the coast of Brazil. There were not satellite photos or sophisticated cartographic equipment back then, which is what makes this book so exciting. Making a map of the world of the magnitude and accuracy of the Waldseemuller Map took trial and error, constant study, months at sea, close observation and a lot of ingenuity and persistence.

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