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Bookmarks Issue: 
27-Mar-Apr-2007
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A Global History of Exploration

A-PathfindersThough the task might seem impossible, Felipe Fernández-Armesto endeavors to follow humankind’s exploration of the world. He starts with the migration of Homo erectus from East Africa to the rest of the continent some 1.5 million years ago, then covers the ocean journeys of Christopher Columbus in 1492, and finally examines events occurring over more than 500 years to the present day, when our cultures are converging. No continent remains untouched and no discovery remains unnoticed. And he reminds us that in the 21st century, little but the deeps of the ocean and the far reaches of space remain to be discovered.
Norton. 432 pages. $27.95. ISBN: 0393062597

New Statesman 4 of 5 Stars
"His portraits are crisp and eloquent, written in consistently memorable prose, though this economy of treatment prevents him from producing any real shocks or revelations. … The shifts are unashamedly marked—no sooner have we dispatched Scott to the freezing polar winds than we are chasing pygmies with Henry Morton Stanley in Africa." Joanna Kavenna

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"The result is a brilliant and readable book. Pathfinders is an illuminating and, at times, stirring examination of the divergence and convergence of cultures, a rich study of humankind’s restless spirit." Candice Millard

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"[Fernández-Armesto’s] approach is distinguished by its multicultural perspective and its meticulous rescue (or deflation) of explorers’ reputations. He seems to have pored through every conceivable archive on every continent and is often able to question handed-down myth by citing expedition receipts or obscure diaries." Michael Upchurch

Wall Street Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"It’s a huge story, and Mr. Fernández -Armesto tells it with gusto and panache. … [His] multicultural, pan-global perspective and his opinionated style give his book a fresh force." Michael J. Ybarra

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Fernández-Armesto … serves up a panoply of characters who are richly and economically drawn. … For all its daunting scope, Pathfinders is propelled by an Argonaut of an author, indefatigable and daring. It’s a wild ride." Jason Roberts

Critical Summary

Few scholars are as qualified as Felipe Fernández-Armesto (Civilizations; Truth), a historian at Tufts, to write a history of exploration. He has written the book on the world as we came to know it. He insists that stories of exploration are really stories of explorers, and in Pathfinders, his sixth book, he tells tales of these brave souls and "trace[s] the laying of the infrastructure of the history of the world." Critics agree that his storytelling prowess accentuates his ample talent. Since Pathfinders covers 1.5 million years of history in fewer than 500 pages, detail-oriented readers may be disappointed in the depth and context of his stories. There’s no doubt, however, that Fernández-Armesto brilliantly charts the history of exploration and the rich history of the world.