Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Who Was First? Discovering the Americas

WHO WAS FIRST? DISCOVERING THE AMERICAS; Russell Freedman; New York: Clarion, 2007; 88pgs. Non-fiction.

Russell Freedman has done it again with this elegant volume about the "discovery" of the New World. He begins with Christopher Columbus (clearly not the first) and works his way back through the Chinese admiral Zheng He (who gave us the Seven Voyages of Sinbad under his alternate name, Sin-Bao), to the Vikings, and to the Native Americans who are thought to have come across a land bridge from Asia, or by sea from Africa. Eye-catching photographs and drawings complement Freedman's typically readable, even fascinating, text. What might be of most value to history-minded youngsters is that much of the research in support of Chinese and Viking arrivals in America has been done by "obsessed amateurs," people who believed in earlier arrivals and searched out the evidence for themselves. It might have been helpful had Freedman explained to his readers that human life is supposed to have originated in Africa, so that they would know why settlers had to come to the New World, but that is a quibble in an otherwise very fine text.

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