25 August 2010

"The Fourth Part of the World"

"The earth... is divided into three parts, one of which is called Asia, the second Europe, the third Africa... Apart from these three parts of the world there exists a fourth part, beyond the ocean, which is unknown to us."
---Isidore of Seville, Etymologies (circa A.D. 600)

I actually bought this book.  I offer that observation as a form of high praise, because I read lot of books and long ago decided it was impractical to buy them; our family are therefore ardent advocates of our local public library system (and enthusiastic supporters in various ways).

I checked this one out from the library based on a review in Harper's or The Atlantic or somewhere, and before I was a quarter of the way through I was ordering the book ($30 new, ~$9 from Amazon).  The focus of the book is on the Waldseemüller map - the 1507 map that was the first to include the term "America" in identifying the recently-discovered western lands [note the word was placed on what is currently South America].  A thousand copies were printed - only one survived, and it is now owned by the Library of Congress.

The story of the map itself is most interesting, but the book ranges far beyond that story to encompass the whole history of cartography from antiquity through the 16th century.  It's not a quick read - 400+ pages, lots of details, fortunately lots of illustrations, lots of worldviews and concepts of the cosmos - but all of it quite lucidly expressed, and to my view at least, endlessly interesting.


  1. Ooh. My husband is a historian with a particular fondness for maps. (He once nearly dumped me in favor of the map room in the NYC library. Long story.) I'm ordering it now.

  2. I was given this book by my father as a 35th birthday present. If you are reading this post and wondering if you should buy this book, I have only one thing to say to you:

    Buy it. Buy it and read it and read it again!

  3. while looking for Expanding Earth Globes i found this -> http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/18/Waldseem%C3%BCller-Globus.jpg

  4. Jens, you perhaps know that what you found is not the Waldseemuller map itself, but rather "globe gores" used to construct a globe. Both are discussed at Wikipedia:



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