Either love or hate the ideologies behind big box book stores such as Chapters-Indigo, but one cannot deny that they have some fairly killer book deals when Ms. Reisman is looking to drop some of her older stock. Yeah, yeah, I know it’s not the public library or fake book shop prices, but hey, 50% off ain’t too bad.
I picked up Gavin Menzies second book 1434: The Year a Magnificent Chinese Fleet Sailed to Italy and Ignited the Renaissance for eight clams (hard-cover). Mr. Menzies is most known for this highly controversial 2002 book 1421: The Year China Discovered the World. I’ve always digged stories about exploration…and remain puzzled why I haven’t read 1421 (it’s always been a hefty price everywhere I’ve seen it…)
Many of the criticisms are listed here, but generally I get the feel that the exclusive academic community got its knickers in a knot over an ‘outsider’ drafting up a theory that didn’t conform to their notion of proper history. As John Ralston Saul writes in A Fair Country (which I also picked up for 10 big ones…great read too) "The higher your studies go, the more they are built around narrow exclusionary ideas of truth, tightly tied to a world of people footnoting one another” (Ralston Saul 2009; 36). 1421 also ties into A Fair Country in the sense that both books are advocating a version of history that distances itself from (without necessarily marginalizing) a European-influenced story of Canada (A Fair Country) and China (1434).
That said though, after reading a few chapters, I can see where some controversy might lie. Mr. Menzies is quite fond of the “If A, B, C, and D occurred, then E must have been the outcome” logic used to create conclusions about Admiral Zheng He’s naval expeditions. It can be quite inferential at times, especially when one considers that something this logistically large escaped solid, undisputed documentation (on both the European and Chinese sides). Still, the theory is tantalizing…even when one remains skeptical, there is some evidence to suggest that it might have happened.
Ralston Saul, J. (2008). A Fair Country: Telling Truths about Canada. Toronto: Penguin.