Paperback: Amerigo, by Felipe Fernández-Armesto

Phoenix £7.99
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The Independent Culture

In a work of radiant intelligence and dazzling articulacy, Fernández-Armesto tells the story of Americo Vespucci, the seedy chancer who gave his name to the world's greatest power.

The author's conclusion is a sweeping accusation of mediocrity: "Too unstudious to be a diplomat, too imprudent to be a great merchant, too incompetent to be a navigator, too ignorant to be a cosmographer." Amerigo's description of the New World is "maddeningly vague". Yet he represents a "strange, world-shaping breed". After thousands of years of European inertia, Amerigo "swapped a familiar sea for an ocean of uncertain hazards".