The Discovery of Mankind


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Atlantic Encounters in the Age of Columbus

David Abulafia

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A new and fascinating perspective on the earliest phases of European exploration across the Atlantic Ocean

The first landings in the Atlantic World generated striking and terrifying impressions of unknown peoples who were entirely foreign to anything in European explorers’ experience. From the first recorded encounters with the native inhabitants of the Canary Islands in 1341 to Columbus's explorations in 1492 and Cabral's discovery of Brazil in 1500, western Europeans struggled to make sense of the existence of the peoples they met. Were they Adam's children, of a common lineage with the peoples of the Old World, or were they a separate creation, the monstrous races of medieval legend? Should they govern themselves? Did they have the right to be free? Did they know God? Could they know God?

Emphasizing contact between peoples rather than the discovery of lands, and using archaeological findings as well as eyewitness accounts, David Abulafia explores the social lives of the New World inhabitants, the motivations and tensions of the first transactions with Europeans, and the swift transmutation of wonder to vicious exploitation. Lucid, readable, and scrupulously researched, this is a work of humane engagement with a period in which a tragically violent standard was set for European conquest across the world.

David Abulafia is professor of Mediterranean History at Gonville and Caius College, University of Cambridge. He is the author or editor of numerous books, including Spain and 1492, Mediterranean Encounters, and The New Cambridge Medieval History, Volume 5, c.1198–c.1300.

Confirmed as alternate selection for History Book Club/Military Book Club Summer '08 brochure, which announces 6/11/08. It will also be featured in BOMC2 (formerly Zooba).

"Age-old exposure to the Bible and the classics left Mediterranean observers poorly prepared to interpret the societies they encountered from the fourteenth to the early sixteenth centuries in the Canary Islands, the Caribbean, and Brazil. Abulafia painstakingly recreates the spiral of violence that overwhelmed and destroyed 'stone-age' societies that had developed largely in isolation. Abulafia also offers a learned account of the emergence of new European anthropologies that sought to transform radically alien others into familiarly pliant Christian laborers."—Jorge Canizares-Esguerra, University of Texas at Austin

"With equal skills as scholar and story-teller, David Abulafia gets to the heart of a subject that matters to today's world: how our understanding of human nature began to emerge in the late medieval Atlantic, where each new encounter between previously unfamiliar peoples and cultures challenged and transformed existing notions. No other book covers the subject so thoroughly or approaches it with such brilliance."—Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, Tufts University

"David Abulafia's masterful study reorients our understanding of the age of Columbus. His meticulous research takes us to the Canary Islands, the Caribbean, and Brazil and puts the European 'discovery' of the Americas into an Atlantic context where it belongs. With extraordinary erudition and sophistication he shows us how the encounter with the indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere shaped early modern European culture."—Peter Mancall, University of Southern California

"From its eye-catching title to its masterful conclusion, this erudite exploration of responses by Iberians and Italians to the peoples they found at the end of the fifteenth century is both unabashedly old-school and engagingly new. Abulafia's vast essay is as illuminating as it is readable."—Matthew Restall, Penn State University, author of Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest

"Abulafia brings together much scattered scholarship and gives due prominence to the neglected significance of the conquest of the Canaries. A well-researched and lucid study that rightly eschews and disdains postmodernist jargon and obfuscation. . . . Highly recommended."—Choice

‘[An] accomplished book.’

"[This] book is to be commended for its emphasis on the importance of the experience in the Canary Islands, its recognition that patters in Brazil are also relevant for understanding the early sixteenth-century encounters, and its quest for a synthesis of this crucial time in human history."—Alida C. Metcalf, The Americas: A Quarterly Review of Inter-American Cultural History

"[Abulafia's book is] extensively researched, painstakingly argued, and constantly true to the words of the explorers themselves. . . . Anyone interested in voyages of discovery, in intellectual history, and in ways cultures react to one another will enjoy and profit from The Discovery of Mankind."—Alison Williams Lewin, The Historian

Abulafia writes in an entertaining, engaging style that will appeal to specialists and nonspecialists alike."—Gayle K. Brunelle, The Historian

"Abulafia's work provides the key to unlock developments not only among the Spaniards but also among other Europeans in the New World. . . . [he] helps us to understand such problems not only in the past but also in our own world and, no doubt, into the future."—Russell Magnaghi, Terrae Incognitae
ISBN: 9780300158212
Publication Date: September 29, 2009
408 pages, 5 11/16 x 8 15/16
30 b/w illus.