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1434    by Gavin Menzies order for
by Gavin Menzies
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William Morrow, 2008 (2008)
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* * *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

Did Christopher Columbus discover America? Or did he have a map that gave him the directions he needed to find the land already laid out by cartographers? Why are the Straits named for Magellan when he told his mutinying crew that he had a map to get them through to the other side?

Author Gavin Menzies (who also wrote 1431, the prequel to 1434) reminds us that Emperor Xuan De of China built a magnificent fleet of over thousands of junks (with thousands of crew on each) to sail the world to the other side and trade. The Chinese carried with them silks, fine porcelain, and thousands of slave girls (who eventually melded into the population of Europe).

Menzies 'makes history sound like pure fun,' says the New York Times Magazine. And more than a few of the entries on his timeline of events are not typically taught in history classes. For example, from 1421 to 1423, great Chinese navigator Admiral Zheng He circumnavigates the globe and discovers America.

Let's skip to 1434. A delegation from the Chinese fleet arrives in Florence and leaves behind a mass of knowledge in the form of documents and drawings, that are used from then on. In 1490, Leonardo da Vinci studies a series of drawings of machines and engineering that seem to have been copied from Chinese work. We all know Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492. What most don't know is that he probably used a map of the Americas drawn by the Chinese who visited Florence in 1434. Magellan, who sailed in 1506-1515, also used Chinese maps detailing a part of the world never before seen by a European.

Menzies' 1434 is a real find for the history scholar, as well as the history buff. Menzie puts rout to what most Westerners think of as history, by simply stating the facts as he has discovered them from his extensive research. The bibliography for this great work is long and impressive, and Menzies certainly makes one think about 1434 and all that followed after.

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