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An erudite work that shows how one devoted scholar opened up an entire realm of knowledge.

A deeply researched look at the editor and author of one of the “great publishing feats” of the 16th century.

Born in the age of discovery, Venetian scholar Giovanni Battista Ramusio (1485-1557) worked in official capacities as a minister, but he also tirelessly organized information that seeped out in the form of journals and letters of new discoveries across the globe. These accounts described Magellan’s circumvention of the world, Cadamosto’s journey along the West Coast of Africa, Jacques Cartier’s travels in Canada, and Pizarro’s conquest of the Incas in Peru. Published in three volumes from 1550 to 1559, Ramusio’s Navigationi et Viaggi introduced much of the heretofore unknown geographical knowledge about three continents, covering Africa and Southeast Asia; then the New World; then Asia and the Muslim lands. In this elegant history, di Robilant, author of Irresistible North and A Venetian Affair, engagingly traces Ramusio’s vast scholarship, which began with his position as an editing assistant to Aldus Manutius, the legendary Venetian publisher of the classics. Working as a clerk in the chancery, then as the secretary to the senate, Ramusio moonlighted as a geographer, helping to publish Strabo’s Geography, and he was highly knowledgeable about classical scholars, who knew little of the layout of the globe. Over decades, Ramusio kept up with dramatic changes in exploration, including works by Antonio Pigafetta, one of the few to return from Magellan’s venture; Muslim convert John Leo, who traveled extensively in Africa; contemporaries Ludovico di Varthema and Cazazionor, who chronicled India and Ceylon; Andrea Navagero, who left a “treasure trove of first-rate material” about the bloody excursions of the Spanish in the New World. Among other richly detailed topics, di Robilant also examines Ramusio’s revisitation of Marco Polo’s journal.

An erudite work that shows how one devoted scholar opened up an entire realm of knowledge.

Pub Date: June 18, 2024

ISBN: 9780307597076

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: April 20, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2024

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A horde-pleaser, well-written and full of surprises.

“The Mongols swept across the globe as conquerors,” writes the appreciative pop anthropologist-historian Weatherford (The History of Money, 1997, etc.), “but also as civilization’s unrivaled cultural carriers.”

No business-secrets fluffery here, though Weatherford does credit Genghis Khan and company for seeking “not merely to conquer the world but to impose a global order based on free trade, a single international law, and a universal alphabet with which to write all the languages of the world.” Not that the world was necessarily appreciative: the Mongols were renowned for, well, intemperance in war and peace, even if Weatherford does go rather lightly on the atrocities-and-butchery front. Instead, he accentuates the positive changes the Mongols, led by a visionary Genghis Khan, brought to the vast territories they conquered, if ever so briefly: the use of carpets, noodles, tea, playing cards, lemons, carrots, fabrics, and even a few words, including the cheer hurray. (Oh, yes, and flame throwers, too.) Why, then, has history remembered Genghis and his comrades so ungenerously? Whereas Geoffrey Chaucer considered him “so excellent a lord in all things,” Genghis is a byword for all that is savage and terrible; the word “Mongol” figures, thanks to the pseudoscientific racism of the 19th century, as the root of “mongoloid,” a condition attributed to genetic throwbacks to seed sown by Mongol invaders during their decades of ravaging Europe. (Bad science, that, but Dr. Down’s son himself argued that imbeciles “derived from an earlier form of the Mongol stock and should be considered more ‘pre-human, rather than human.’ ”) Weatherford’s lively analysis restores the Mongols’ reputation, and it takes some wonderful learned detours—into, for instance, the history of the so-called Secret History of the Mongols, which the Nazis raced to translate in the hope that it would help them conquer Russia, as only the Mongols had succeeded in doing.

A horde-pleaser, well-written and full of surprises.

Pub Date: March 2, 2004

ISBN: 0-609-61062-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2003

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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