Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, the author of several books on global history, now has written a comprehensive study of human exploration in Pathfinders. After a brief chapter discussing the prehistoric dispersal of cultures, the author settles into his main story, which is the later convergence of human cultures through exploration. Much of this was, by necessity, by sea. He discusses a number of counterintuitive truths. For example, early explorers always ventured into the wind, because it assured them an easy ride home. Not until the Vikings, who followed whatever wind patterns and currents they could find, was this pattern broken. Also, one of the reasons for the 15th century surge in trans-Atlantic exploration was the cracking of the Atlantic wind codes. Because of the size of the Pacific Ocean, cracking those wind codes took longer, and required the technological advances of scurvy prevention and instruments that could correctly measure longitude before it was completed. Mr. Armesto subdivides each age of exploration into continental regions, and later discusses land explorations, telling well-known stories (“Mr. Livingstone, I presume”) with aplomb.
In his conclusion, the author states, “Explorers have often been oddballs or eccentrics or visionaries or romancers or social climbers or social outcasts, or escapees from the restrictive and the routine, with enough distortion of vision to be able to reimagine reality.” This book is full of stories about those ambitious men, very well told.