Amerigo by Felipe Fernandez-Armesto
The Man Who Gave His Name to America

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In 1507, European cartographers were struggling to redraw their maps of the world and to name the newly found lands of the Western Hemisphere. The name they settled on: America, after Amerigo Vespucci, an obscure Florentine explorer.

In Amerigo, the award-winning scholar Felipe Fernández-Armesto answers the question “What’s in a name?” by delivering a rousing flesh-and-blood narrative of the life and times of Amerigo Vespucci. Here we meet Amerigo as he really was: a sometime slaver and small-time jewel trader; a contemporary, confidant, and rival of Columbus; an amateur sorcerer who attained fame and honor by dint of a series of disastrous failures and equally grand self-reinventions. Filled with well-informed insights and amazing anecdotes, this magisterial and compulsively readable account sweeps readers from Medicean Florence to the Sevillian court of Ferdinand and Isabella, then across the Atlantic of Columbus to the brave New World where fortune favored the bold.

Amerigo Vespucci emerges from these pages as an irresistible avatar for the age of exploration–and as a man of genuine achievement as a voyager and chronicler of discovery. A product of the Florentine Renaissance, Amerigo in many ways was like his native Florence at the turn of the sixteenth century: fast-paced, flashy, competitive, acquisitive, and violent. His ability to sell himself–evident now, 500 years later, as an entire hemisphere that he did not “discover” bears his name–was legendary. But as Fernández-Armesto ably demonstrates, there was indeed some fire to go with all the smoke: In addition to being a relentless salesman and possibly a ruthless appropriator of other people’s efforts, Amerigo was foremost a person of unique abilities, courage, and cunning. And now, in Amerigo, this mercurial and elusive figure finally has a biography to do full justice to both the man and his remarkable era.

“A dazzling new biography . . . an elegant tale.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“An outstanding historian of Atlantic exploration, Fernández-Armesto delves into the oddities of cultural transmission that attached the name America to the continents discovered in the 1490s. Most know that it honors Amerigo Vespucci, whom the author introduces as an amazing Renaissance character independent of his name’s fame–and does Fernández-Armesto ever deliver.”
Booklist (starred review)

From the Hardcover edition.

About Felipe Fernandez-Armesto

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Felipe Fernández-Armesto, the William P. Reynolds Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame, is the author of Pathfinders: A Global History of Exploration and Our America: A Hispanic History of the United States. He lives in South Bend, Indiana, and London.
Published December 18, 2008 by Random House. 272 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Travel, Business & Economics, Sports & Outdoors, Political & Social Sciences. Non-fiction

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In summation, he’s an undeniably compelling figure, as evidenced by the book’s opening salvo: “Amerigo Vespucci…was a pimp in his youth and a magus in his maturity.” It’s hard not to be intrigued by a man who was on intimate terms with both Columbus and the Medici family, a man who enjoyed an alm...

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The New York Times

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Using the bare bones of what is known about Vespucci to expatiate on subjects as diverse as the brutal world of Renaissance Italy, the importance of trade winds to world history and the poetics of travel writing, Fernández-Armesto has written a provocative primer on how navigators like Columbus a...

Aug 12 2007 | Read Full Review of Amerigo: The Man Who Gave His...


An innocent error in judgment by geographers in 1507 at St. Die, then a sovereign duchy located between France and Germany, led to the naming of the Western hemisphere's continents after the Florentine explorer Amerigo Vespucci (1451-1512).

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