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The Fourth Part of the World: The Race to the Ends of the Earth, and the Epic Story of the Map that Gave America Its Name

This is the story of one of the greatest maps ever made—the giant, groundbreaking, and mind-bending Waldseemüller map of 1507, bought in 2003 by the Library of Congress for $10 million. The map is most famous for having given America its name, which alone would make it a historical treasure. But it charts something much larger and more complex than just the contours of New World discovery. It offers a kaleidoscopic vision of worlds upon worlds: a constantly shifting mosaic of geography and history, people and places, stories and ideas, truth and fiction. That’s the vision captured in this book, which tells the stories of not only of Martin Waldseemüller and Matthias Ringmann, the forgotten makers of the map, but also a host of other actors in the larger drama that this map puts on stage: classical geographers and explorers, Mongol khans, Prester John, Marco Polo and the first Christian missionaries to Asia, medieval monks, early Italian and Portuguese explorers and slave traders, Petrarch and Boccaccio, imperially minded popes, Christopher Columbus and Amerigo Vespucci, even Nicholas Copernicus. What emerges from the story is a novel way of seeing and understanding how, over the course of several centuries, Europeans and others gradually shook off long-held ideas about the world, rapidly expanded their geographical and intellectual horizons, and eventually—in a continent-spanning collective enterprise that culminated in the making of the map—managed to arrive at a new understanding of the world as a whole.

 

 

Awards

 

Barnes & Noble/Discover Great New Writers Award (March 2010)

 

 

Reviews

 Review (Weekly Standard, August 9, 2010)
“Absorbing, suspenseful, and beautifully illustrated ... Toby Lester's book is a sumptuous feast.”

Review (History Today, February 18, 2010) - [Search for “Toby Lester”]
“Lester’s engaging narrative zips along ... We meet an extraordinary cast of philosophers, merchants and astronomers. Lester shows us corpses, cannibals and naked nymphomaniacs. There is looting and pillage, seduction and sedition; this is no dusty tome. We journey from dingy garrets to the farthest spheres of Aristotelian space.”

Review (Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, The Wilson Quarterly, Winter 2010)
“Lester’s deftness in narrating a long and complex tale is impressive: fluent, clear, well informed, and perfectly paced. In short, he is an example of a phenomenon increasingly embarrassing to professional historians: a journalist who writes history better than we can.”

Top Books of the Year (Seattle News Tribune, December 30, 2009)
“One of this year's most captivating and richly detailed histories”

Best Books of the Year (Express, December 28, 2009)
“Lester's treatise on the first map to show the American continent ... turns into a history of cartography, geography and exploration. Who knew you found those things so interesting?”

 Best Books of the Year (Washington Post, December 12, 2009)
“Lester captures the passion, curiosity and, at times, the hubris behind the European explorations”

Books of the Year (Telegraph, December 6, 2009)
“A superbly informative study of maps and chaps” 

Armchair Traveler (New York Times, November 29, 2009)
“Compelling ... Mr. Lester bravely ventures where few have gone before”

The Best Books to Give as Gifts (Wall Street Journal, November 27, 2009)
“Perfect for [somebody who] loves biography and non fiction, particularly idea-driven books like Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel ... The intriguing story of a map, drawn in 1507 by a German cartographer, that was the first to depict the New World, including America.”

 Cover-to-Cover review (The Atlantic, December, 2009)
“Marvelously imaginative, exhaustively researched ... Guiding the reader Virgil-like through the Age of Discovery, Lester introduces a chronologically and conceptually vast array of Great Men (Columbus, Vespucci, Polo, Copernicus, et al.), competing theories, monastic sages, forgotten poets, opportunistic merchants, unfortunate slaves, and more. That he relates it all so cleanly and cogently—via elegant prose, relaxed erudition, measured pacing, and purposeful architecture—is a feat. That he proffers plentiful visual delights, including detailed views of the legendary document, is a gift.” 

Lead review (Sunday Times of London, October 25, 2009) (book also included on the Sunday Times "must-read" list for 2009)
“Boundlessly engaging ... Lester could easily have written a fine book focused more narrowly on the creation of the Waldseemüller map ... Instead, he has told the genuinely epic story of Europe’s quest to explore the unknown, using the Waldseemüller map as his chart. In pursuit of that historical quest, few books could provide a surer guide.”

 Review (Simon Winchester, Amazon)
“Almost unbearably thrilling .. Toby Lester has done American history the greatest service by writing this elegant and thoughtful account ... We are told that this is his first book: may we hope that he writes many more, for his is a rare and masterly talent”

 Starred review (Publishers Weekly, June 29, 2009)
“With the excitement and exhilaration of an explorer, Atlantic contributor Lester sets off on his own journey of discovery across the seas of cartography and history . . . Lester traces the map's journey to America over the next century in a majestic tribute to a historic work.”