1492 : The Year Our World Began, Hardback
4 out of 5 (1 rating)


The world would end in 1492 - so the prophets, soothsayers and stargazers said.

They were right. Their world did end. Ours began. Felipe Fernandez-Armesto traces key elements of the modern world back to that single, fateful year: the way power and wealth are distributed around the globe; the way major religions and civilisations divide the world.

Events that began in 1492 even transformed the whole ecological system of the planet.

Our individualism and the very sense we share of inhabiting one world, as partakers in a common humanity, took shape and became visible. In search of the origins of modernity, 1492 takes readers on a journey around the globe of the time, in the company of real-life travellers, drawing the together the threads that began to bind the planet.

The tour starts in Granada, where the last Islamic kingdom in Europe collapsed, then moves to Timbuktoo, where a new Muslim empire triumphed.

With Portuguese explorers, we visit the court of the first Christian king in the southern hemisphere.

We join Jews expelled from Spain as they cross the Mediterranean to North Africa, Italy and Istanbul. We see the frozen frontiers of the dynamic, bloody Russia of Ivan the Great, and hear mystical poets sing on the shores of the Indian Ocean.

We observe the Aztecs and Incas lay the foundations of a New World in the Americas.

Wars and witchcraft, plagues and persecutions, poetry and prophecy, science and magic, art and faith - all the glories and follies of the time are in this book.

Everywhere, new departures marked the start of a new configuration for humankind, revealing how and why the modern world is different from the worlds of antiquity and the middle ages. History seems a patternless labyrinth - but a good guide can trace our paths through it back to the moment when some of the most striking features of today's world began.


  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 352 pages, Illustrations, maps
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: General & world history
  • ISBN: 9781408800706



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An engrossing, highly readable survey of the state of the world in 1492, when Columbus's (or his overlooked lookout's) discovery of the Americas dramatically changed the global status quo. Fernandez-Armesto, a Professorial Fellow of Queen Mary, University of London, writes with clarity and intellectual rigor (not always an easily managed combination), examining the international situation with the enthusiasm of an ideal explorer.At 321 pages, this book is deceptively lightweight, and minimally footnoted, but the author manages to pack an impressive amount of content between its covers. Over the course of ten chapters, subjects covered include, among others, the fortunes of Islam in Africa, the reign of Ivan III and his massive expansion of Russia, and the complex tensions between Confucian mandarins and the Buddhist-sympathizing Ming dynasty. Some of Fernandez-Armesto's most striking observations are only briefly treated in the text, but provide much room for further thought: for example, his speculation that a decline in the fortunes of the great empire of Mali, during the fifteenth century, may have directly influenced the concurrent decline in the status of black people, evinced in contemporary map illustrations, thus strengthening the justifications for the slave trade (itself already well underway) and constituting a dramatic turning-point in the history of race relations.Occasionally, the author's attempts to provide contemporary pop-culture parallels for historic reference points can feel slightly jarring, but this is rarely an issue and in any case is also a reflection of the book's appealing chattiness and immense enthusiasm for and engagement with its subject. Notwithstanding its light touch, however, this study provides a cogent and intensive analysis of why other parts of the world, for one reason or another, did not take over the Americas -- thus giving the lie to the inevitability of the "rise of the West" -- and what this take-over, five hundred odd years ago, means for the world today.

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