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1494: How a Family Feud in Medieval Spain Divided the World in Half
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1494: How a Family Feud in Medieval Spain Divided the World in Half

3.77  ·  Rating Details ·  133 Ratings  ·  27 Reviews
"This is a starry love story, a tale of seething jealousies and subterfuge, a political imbroglio, and religious cruelties. It sounds like Shakespeare and it could have very well been the plot of one of his plays."
--Toronto Star

In 1494, award-winning author Stephen R. Bown tells the untold story of the explosive feud between monarchs, clergy, and explorers that split the
ebook, 304 pages
Published February 14th 2012 by Thomas Dunne Books (first published July 1st 2011)
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Jun 14, 2013 Jennifer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This a good generalist novel on the events leading to the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas and the ramifications stemming from that Treaty. I for one, had no idea that it was the Pope (Pope Alexander VI aka the infamous Rodrigo Borgia) who decreed this and how Brazil is the only Portuguese speaking country in South America. Since this was a papal bull, it was enforced for a century and led to Spain and Portugal being superpowers of the day until the Protestant Reformation. It highlights Columbus's voy ...more
Stephen R. Bown is one of those generalist authors who focuses on historical events or stories and makes them come alive. 1494 is a great melange of historic tales and personalities tied together by the theme of the Treaty of Tordesillas, when Pope Alexander VI divided the world between Spain and Portugal. This is not a dry read, but an engaging one with chapters on Queen Elizabeth's famous privateer (Francis Drake), the Spanish Ferdinand and Isabella's piety that led Europe into one of the worl ...more
Jan 21, 2013 John rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An admittedly "big picture" book by a Canadian author, "1494" is a fun, quick, interesting read that introduces a set of historical events that few readers may know. The book sketches the rise of the Portuguese and Spanish overseas empires, the clashes between the ruling (and related) houses of the two countries, and the creation of the papal bull and associated treaty that attempted to divide the "new" world into exclusive Portuguese and Spanish zones. The book then turns its attention to descr ...more
Rena Aleen
Nov 02, 2014 Rena Aleen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
First and foremost, I enjoyed the begging of the book it was very interesting to read about Isabella and Ferdinand and the struggle they faced before and after their marriage. I also enjoyed reading about Columbus voyages to the Indian ocean and details on the discovery of America. it got a bit confusing to me at the end. I think because i was rushing it throw and trying to finish the book so i can start writing my history paper, but none the less this book is very educational. I have learned so ...more
Aug 06, 2012 Sharon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A really interesting historical read about how Spain and Portugal managed to control so much of the "known" world, the role of the Pope, and the monarchs, and more. It really set a lot of background for me to what I knew - and not a lot - and remembered about the slave trade, and other information. Since traveling to Spain several years ago, I've had an interest in learning how Spain become a world power and is hardly considered by many today even worth a tourist trip. This is well-written, and ...more
Marlene Teixeira
Jan 19, 2017 Marlene Teixeira rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love to read about this time of history, the time Portugal was the center of europe, of the world, with great minds and great rulers. Also, I'm always interested to read what foreign people have to say about portuguese history. Portugal is an important piece of history that seems to be forgotten by everyone, it's sad really. Portugal made so many discoveries, gave new worlds to the world, and some people don't even know Portugal is an independent country from Spain.

I detected minor mistakes in
Michael Fitzgerald
This book started as a compelling, fascinating view into 15th century Spain and Portugal. When I got 2/3s of the way through the book, however, it started losing me. This is the point where the author continues into the late 1500s, how Spain's economy became wrecked, as it were, by dependence on gold and silver from New Spain, how the colonies in the New World had to buy everything at exorbitant prices from Spain, how this led to piracy, defiance of the authority of the Catholic church, and so f ...more
I picked this one up at my library because I fancied some history and it just looked a bit intriguing. I made a great choice with this one!

It is definitely a real history book. You need to understand a bit of European history, particularly Tudor-era history, to really get to grips with it, but for me it's a wonderful book that links Columbus, Sir Francis Drake, sugar, slaves, cinnamon, pepper, and popes all together in one very well-written general history, and in the process explains why Indone
Gustavo Nascimento
Ótimo livro sobre o período das grandes navegações, traz um bom panorama do período com destaque para a unificação da Espanha e as viagens de Cristóvão Colombo e Fernão de Magalhães. Também traz uma reflexão interessante sobre a como divisão do mundo pelo por uma bula papal entre apenas dois países da cristandade européia pode ter sido um fator importante no sucesso da reforma protestante nos demais países da Europa. O livro peca um pouco por dar muito mais destaque sobre fatos ocorridos na Espa ...more
Bryn Donovan
May 30, 2015 Bryn Donovan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This is a pretty good overview of the circumstances leading to the Treaty of Tordesillas. It felt a little uneven to me. The circumstances surrounding Isabella's marriage to Ferdinand are discussed in great detail, but after that, you don't get as clear of a picture of the personalities involved in the history. The author seems pretty enthralled with Isabella, who was of course a total asshole.

I was particularly interested in reading about Prince Henry the Navigator's role in establishing Afric
Aug 04, 2012 Julie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An awesome read on the power of the Pope and the Roman seat of power during 15th century Europe - specifically Spain and Portugal. A great historical story detailing how Pope Alexander divided the world in half and how England and other countries became Protestant in order to bypass the Papal Bull that gave half the world to Spain and the other to Portugal without having the inconvenience of being excommunicated by
the Roman Catholic church.
Dispels a lot of misconception regarding who really dis
Jan 14, 2014 Littlebrit rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A carefully written text on the tumultuous events in the Iberian peninsula and the world's oceans during the 15th century. These events, including Columbus's "discovery" of America, dramatically changed the course of world history, but were largely set in motion by the decision of a young Spanish woman of high birth to decide her own future and defy the wishes of her family. Also, pivotal in setting history's course, were the unbelievable, in today's terms, and arrogant actions of a number of po ...more
Apr 22, 2012 Thomas rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Mr. Bown gives us a good "wide angle" view of the love/hate relationship that Spain and Portugal developed prior to Columbus's first voyage to the New World. He explains how internal dynastic struggles and corrupt popes contributed to these two nations actually dividing the world between them. Yep, they actually drew up up a treaty and had it blessed by Rodrigo Borgia. Portugal got most of the East half and Spain the West.

I especially enjoyed his description of Magellan's circumnavigation of the
Dec 29, 2013 Cary rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, history, bchp
I'm on the fence as to what to give this - a 3 or a 4. On the one hand it's engaging and fascinating, but on the other it is a bit fluffy. I could have done with a little more detail, footnoting and maps. The last point in particular bogged me. A book about the age of exploration with ONLY ONE MAP. Weak.

If you have an interest in figures like Columbus, Isabella and Magellan,as well as the treaty that divided the world between the two superpowers of the late 15th century and how that shaped geopo
Daniel Kukwa
Nov 02, 2013 Daniel Kukwa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
A solid concise thesis, a concise story well told, and an excellent analysis of a specific series of decisions that lead to a monumental impact on the world. I had my eye on this one for a long time, and it didn't fail to live up to expectations. I especially appreciated the succinct summary of the that didn't require a biblical-length text in its own right.
Oct 06, 2014 Cleokatra rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014
This book is a very readable overview of this period in history. It could easily have been two or three times longer than it was and that may or may not have been a good thing. I really did enjoy reading this book. There is an extensive list of suggested reading at the end of the book. I'm looking forward to checking out some of those sources to get more details.
Katy M
Aug 11, 2016 Katy M rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I would give the first half of this book a 4 and the second half 2. The first half was very informative and interesting, the second half got boring and weighed down. I will also echo what some are saying about maps. Considering the importance of the Spice Island exact placement it would have been nice to have them labelled on the map.
May 28, 2014 Robert rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book delivers in what it promises. For those that don't have much knowledge about that era, other relevant events are appropriately covered briefly. Very quick and easy to read, a bit too short for my taste.
Sharyn Lehrke
Very readable explanation of Spanish and Portuguese early exploration/colonization and how the Roman Catholic Church split the globe between these two countries. Very vivid characterizations of the key historical figures involved.
Lauren Albert
The book is really about the events leading up to the division of the world into "Portuguese" and "Spanish" possessions by the Pope and then to the consequences of that event. So the second half of the book discusses the exploratory travels funded by other countries and the wars that resulted.
Raymond Brown
Apr 23, 2012 Raymond Brown rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very good story - the author does a great job of linking the Treaty of Tordesillas to larger historical events and to maritime history in general. Excellent tale from the time. Easy to read and interesting to follow.
Sep 18, 2012 Dave rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great story concerning the Church and the Kingdoms of Spain and Portugal during the 16th century. Very well written.
May 07, 2013 Felisa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Me ha gustado mucho. Su lectura se hace muy amena, nada pesada, y me ha servido para recordar cosas que había estudiado y ya no recordaba. Muy interesante.
Cristóvão Atherino
The author did a good historical review of the time of Columbus and how the Treaty of Tordesillas influenced later European alliances and conflicts. Good read.
Kassandra rated it really liked it
Mar 01, 2016
Anna rated it it was amazing
Apr 22, 2016
Ruth Harvey
Ruth Harvey rated it liked it
Aug 08, 2015
Ryan Flores
Ryan Flores rated it really liked it
May 06, 2012
Arto rated it liked it
Nov 25, 2016
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I am a critically acclaimed author of nine literary non-fiction books on the history of science, exploration and ideas. I take a biographical and narrative approach to my writing, using the techniques of fiction writing – strong storytelling, creative language, emphasizing people, their decisions, actions and motivations – to tell factually and historically accurate stories.
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