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on February 21, 2013
I am a history buff. I love to sink into the scenes and imagine myself right there, however many years ago it may have been. 1421 is a great read from that perspective. The author took me for a long and detailed journey that really made me question our conventional understanding of historical events. He provides enough support for his thesis for it to be credible, with the understanding that I am not an expert by any means. His background as a mariner lends credibility to a story that requires an enormous amount of homework to substantiate. This is not a story that can be told in 50 pages, there is too much to account for. In the process of following these treasure fleets through their journeys around the globe I learned a lot about the Chinese culture and, quite frankly, learned a lot about the geography of the world and even how the naturally occurring currents of our oceans work. My brain is full and my curiosity has been satisfied.
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HALL OF FAMEon February 15, 2006
I am of two minds about this book by Gavin Menzies. I find it absolutely fascinating to read some of the speculations and interpretations that he puts on different maps and findings. I find it credible to believe that Chinese fleets of the early 1400s would be trading in the Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean, making regular journeys to places as far as Africa, and perhaps reaching the Pacific Coasts of North and South America a few times.
However, I don't know what to think of such issues as Puerto Rico not only having been discovered by Chinese Fleets, but that based on this information, the Portuguese would have colonised areas in the Caribbean a generation prior to Columbus' journey - there seems no credible reason why Prince Henry the Navigator, being given such acclaim in history as he has been, would not also be credited with discovery of the New World if in fact he and his companions had found a passage across the Atlantic and discovered islands there.
Menzies is a good writer. I enjoyed reading the text very much. His description of the history of imperial China in the generation of the 1421 fleet is very engaging. The description of the politics and culture of China of the early Ming dynasty is good. The building of the Forbidden City, the repair of the Great Wall, and the dredging and expansion of the Great Canal are all projects from this period. It is also well known in historical circles that the period from 1400 to the 1430s was a time of exploration, with Zheng He, a Muslim eunuch in the court of the emperor, in charge of seven different fleets that reached Africa, Japan, and many islands of the South Pacific. These were documented and maintained as part of the ongoing record of Chinese history - why they would be selective to edit out the parts about the Americas, Greenland, and Antarctica becomes a bit speculative.
Likewise, his description of medieval Europe in the generations before and of the great voyages of discovery is also very interesting. He describes some of the political forces driving both exploration and colonisation - again, however, things fall a bit short. Why would the Portuguese, already settled in the Caribbean, agree to a division of the world by the Pope that would cut them out of that territory (particularly when the fact that they had a presence in Brazil was part of why they were permitted in the division to maintain their colonies there)?
Menzie's evidence comes from maps, from archaeological finds, and from literary and documentary pieces. However, one of the pitfalls here is that most every piece of evidence presented is subject to multiple interpretations. Menzie's claims as a navigator and expert in chart-reading do bear up under scrutiny, but this does mean that his interpretations are necessarily correct. There are those who brand his interpretations and conclusions as outlandish - I would opt more for the word 'hopeful' here, in that he does believe that what he has discovered is true on the whole, and this hopefulness leads in a particular hermeneutical direction.
Accoring to one commentator, 'Menzies' hypothesis and his theory accomplishes what many Zheng He scholars and academicians failed to do: that is to create a wide awareness on the subject matter; and forced a critical rethink, including some reevaluations on the extent, the success and the failures of the Ming Imperial Treasure Fleet.' The real benefit of a book such as this one is that it causes conversation and research into history among those who might not otherwise be so inclined. The worrisome part is that it might not be conducted in such as way as to be able to separate fact from fiction.
Menzies does maintain a website dedicated to further researches and refinements in his theory. Thus far, few major academics and historians have signed on as believers of this theory, but there are some - Sir John Elliott, in the Department of Modern History at Oxford is perhaps the most notable.
So, one is left at this - history is not an exact science much of the time, but it isn't a complete fiction or completely subjective dependent upon the whims of those who believe what they will believe, either. It is true that China was more advanced that Europe in many ways at this time, and that the Chinese did command larger fleets than the Europeans at this point in time. However, Menzies' conclusions here are based on interpretation that rests on the shifting sands of myth, legend, and documents with variable ideas of accuracy. Menzies is passionate in his writing, but so far has failed to be convincing. I will strive to maintain an open mind; I will continue to accept the more 'canonical' reading of history that has a stronger pedigree, but will follow the developments of Menzies' theory in the coming decades with interest.
I would give this three-and-one-half stars given the option.
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on June 24, 2014
This is an expansion of Menzies' theory first presented in "1421: The Year China Discovered the World" that the Chinese arrived in North America prior to Columbus. In "Who Discovered America?" he goes further by positing that the Chinese, and Europeans (specifically, the Minoans) made repeated voyages to the Americas for a period of thousands of years and became the Native Americans.

The evidence presented is compelling: DNA, language similarities, the presence of non-indigenous flora and fauna existing in the Americas prior to "discovery" by Europeans. Do I believe it? Not wholeheartedly, but if his evidence is accurate, the case is compelling.

Unfortunately, he muddies the water by inserting his own completely unfounded opinions. After a trip to Samarkand, he concludes, as a non-archaeologist and non-historian, that because the modern city is small that no overland silk road could possibly have existed. He also concludes that because he doesn't know how to survive in harsh Arctic conditions that Asian immigrants could not possibly have crossed the Bering Sea land bridge (guess he's never heard of the Inuit). Why he would feel the need to disprove other theories in order to bolster his own, I have no idea. The existence of an overland Silk Road doesn't preclude a maritime route any more than immigration by land precludes immigration by sea.

An intriguing concept, but in order to get to the meat of the theory, you have to wade through the author's ego.
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on January 26, 2016
Gavin Menzies is a good writer, but he's not a historian. He embraces fantasy and conspiracy theory with the same credulity and sensationalism as a Glenn Beck or Geraldo Rivera. '1421' exploits the average Westerner's ignorance of Chinese history by asking us to accept the extraordinary and absurd with as little evidence as there is for the Trojan War or Arthurian Legend. If it were just boyish fantasy, Menzies' 'history' would make a much better series in fiction - The Adventures of Zheng He - something akin to Sinbad or the Patrick O'Brian series, but as it is, Menzies is merely presenting interesting babble.
It was an entertaining read that may even inspire people to study Chinese history and to question some established historical narratives - and for that I give it two stars.
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on November 22, 2015
Have read the book twice ,latest copy was a gift. I have read some of the critics remarks and
feel they come from the same group who still want the public to believe Columbus
discovered America..There will be errors in the book ,as his canvas is the whole world.
However in the main I think he has got it right.
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on September 28, 2013
I was looking for a copy of this book because I had read a library copy and found it interesting. I purchased this used book because i didn't want to spend a lot. The condition of the book is excellent, it shows very little wear. Shipping was fast. I would use this seller again.
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on April 22, 2011
I could not believe you were selling this hardcover book for 1 cent. But the book was in great shape and the shipping costs were in line with other items so I purchased book and was not disappointed. Thanks for the great servive and the book for 1 cent.
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on June 27, 2003
This is a great book for many reasons. First, it is a great adventure story. The author takes the reader along the voyages of China's great treasure fleets in the 1420s as they sailed around the world. Second, it clearly illustrates how history depends on who is around to tell it, and not on the truth. Third, it is a great detective story. The author shows how different clues have to be pieced together to create a coherent story. And last, it is a perfect example of how achievements are easily forgotten or erased from memory. The flow of the text is good; there are enough references in the text to keep it honest, but not so much as to break up the reading.
The only reason I did not give this book 5 stars is that there should be more pictures and diagrams explaining the various sailing and navigation terms; like how latitude is measured via stars, how a ship sails into the wind, how distance is measured on a sailing vessel, etc...
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on December 13, 2013
I read "Longitude" by Dava Sobel (Walker &Co. New York) and was disappointed that Menzies did not go into the way that the chinese dealt with the problem of determining the longitude at sea.
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on August 5, 2016
A masterful piece of research and a fascinating story - wonderful topic for a book club discussion. A much different view of the history of exploration and discovery.
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