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Pathfinders: A Global History of Exploration

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  249 ratings  ·  40 reviews
A distinguished scholar traces the history of exploration from a global perspective, following the pathfinders and their expeditions over the course of five millennia to the farthest reaches of the world, from ancient Egypt, through the merchants and missionaries of the Silk Roads, to the discovery of the New World and the nineteenth-century expedi
Hardcover, 428 pages
Published November 1st 2006 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published January 1st 2006)
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Sep 28, 2014 rated it liked it
The ocean to be cross'd, the distant to be brought near,
The lands to be welded together.

-Walt Whitman

The stories of the great explorers have always enchanted me. I assumed they went off on their wild adventures simply for the heck of it all, but as this book makes clear, the main reason for the beginning of the 'Pathfinders' was to overcome the adverse balance of trade. Because China and the lands of the Indian Ocean provided silks and spices and gems, the Romans and later Europeans were the end
Tim Chamberlain
May 29, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This wasn't quite the book I was expecting it to be, given the many quoted "hype" of its sales blurb, my expectations might perhaps have been raised a little too high. Pathfinders: A Global History of Exploration is undoubtedly an excellent, comprehensive, globe-spanning survey of the history of human migration from the earliest epochs to the more recent era of globalised colonial expansion driven by commercial and scientific motives. And it certainly distills a lot of information with an engagi ...more
Jan 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
While this is mostly a good book with a very broad sweep I have several disagreements with some of the conclusions of the author. Three to be exact. First, he dismisses Sir Francis Drake as an insignificant explorer. While I recognize Drake's primary historical importance lies outside of his explorations, he did discover Drake's Straight and explored the west coast of North America and left invaluable information about the Native Peoples of northern California. Secondly, the Lewis and Clark Expe ...more
John Lowrie
May 18, 2012 rated it liked it
This is a wonderful retrospective of human exploration, starting with the dispersal of humanity from tropical Africa to the farthest reaches of the globe and continuing up until the present with all groups of humans back in touch with each other (not counting the few Amazon tribes still to be contacted). The book is great up until the last couple of pages where Mr. Hernandez-Armesto sneers at the future of exploration with such blatant hypocrisy that it's hard to fathom how he came to his conclu ...more
Jan 30, 2016 rated it it was ok
It took me a while to slog through this. The main problem, I think, was that the author didn't seem to think much of any of the explorers. Yes, the myths that have grown up around them need to be cleared away in a history, but when the author dismisses an explorer's motives or accomplishments so often, I start to wonder why I should bother to read about them. A secondary issue was the maps. There *are* maps, but not always where I needed them and often from such an unfamiliar perspective or proj ...more
Fabián Pérez
Jan 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I´ve read some of the reviews criticizing that he makes a wrong apreciation of some historical charachters. Yes, he is a critic of some. Some I found right some I found wrong. But this is irrelevant.

The most notable and relevant virtue of this book is not only the tale of exploration as a story of humanity, but most remarkably that the writer makes the most interesting questions, theories and reasonings as to how and why things happened.

The fact on itself that Columbus discovered America is not
Tony Mercer
Oct 10, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was an absolutely fascinating book that tells the story of the global exploration since the beginning of time. The beginning is a little slow, but as Da Gama, Cabot, Cook, and Amundsen take off the book is an addicting read. The tales of the first explorers to infiltrate the gold filled yet impossible to find realms of Timbuktu, navigate the winds to New Guinea, and attempts to find the Northwest Passage. It is a comprehensive yet storylike history of some of the most exciting adventures of ...more
Aug 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Armesto provides a nearly comprehensive history of the world through the pathfinders, those individuals who sought out new routes and new places, on land and sea. By considering so many individual explorers and their accomplishments, Armesto gives the reader a very meaty book, but succeeds in explaining the divergence of humanity, led out of Africa by explorers, then the convergence of human societies, again led by those extraordinary individuals whose curiosity, search for profit, and above all ...more
Oct 18, 2019 rated it liked it
"What good came of all this exploration? It was a question philosophes found irresistable. Progress was their almost irresistable answer. But Diderot, the secular pontiff of the Enlightenment, the editor of the Encyclopédie, did not agree. In 1773 he wrote a denunciation of explorers as agents of a new kind of barbarism. Base motives drove them: 'tyranny, crime, ambition, misery, curiousity, I know not what restlessness of spirit, the desire to know and the desire to see, boredom, the dislike of ...more
Gary Brecht
Jun 24, 2019 rated it it was ok
Tracing the “global” history of most subjects would seem to be an intimidating and ambitious endeavor; not for this author though. Armesto has the advantage of being multilingual. Many of the records of Europe’s earliest and most significant discoveries were written in Portuguese and Spanish naval logs. But these records are only a small part of the greater picture.

The author identifies ancient trade routes on land and sea that connect various cultures throughout the civilized world. He informs
Oct 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
Pathfinders is a book about maritime exploration mostly. Why the Arabian Sea monsoon system facilitated trade in the Arabia Sea early, why the Atlantic trading system emerged much later and how it came to dominate the trading systems. He spends some time on deconstructing the legends and myths about well known explorers. But the most fascinating thing about the books was that he mentions so many place names without saying which country they are in. I had to repeatedly open google maps to find wh ...more
Jun 14, 2020 added it
Utterly fascinating history of humanity's sometimes futile efforts to expand its worldview. Commerce is invariably the spur to so many of the seemingly insane attempts to scale peaks, hack through, jungles, haul sleds over ice and slog through scorching sands. One is left with the question of "Why?" for many of the expeditions, which result in such hardships and needless death.
Many limiting factors I hadn't really considered hampered exploration. Scurvy alone was a big one. Technological change
Sıla J.
Aug 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A fascinating book. Professor Fernández-Armesto writes with clarity and his way of telling the story of convergence is informative as well as thought-provoking.
The maps could be better, though. I had to read with Google Maps at hand to visualize the majority of the explorations.
Aug 19, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A book somewhat too ambitious for its subject - it spans most of human history, from the traces of evidence of prehistoric migrations to about the 1960s, when contact was "finally" being made with the most remote tribes in the Amazon and New Guinea interiors. It's not short, but that's still a lot of ground to cover, especially because Fernando-Armesto is careful to cover many of the explorers who didn't get much credit in our 4th grade social studies classes (including a number of non-western e ...more
Jan 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
I read this book as part of my Exploration course in Geography at University, but while academic it is very accessibly written. I found it an absolutely fascinating topic. The book operates on a grand scale, telling the history of human movements through the viewpoint of pathfinders - those who found their way to new areas of the globe - from the first dispersions of human populations out of Africa right up to contemporary explorations of the oceans and outer space. This gives the book a global ...more
Jan 06, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I was actually really suprised at how much i loved this book. It is the history of world exploration. It is actually really well written. It is the type of stuff you learned in second grade! You know Magellan, Cook, Marco Polo! You know you want to know all about these guys! The themes this guy picks out to discuss and explore are really interesting like legend vs reality. Where were these guys really exploring? Why were so many lives spent trying to find a passage through northern canada? Aren ...more
Nov 23, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This man is a genius. As a historian, Fernandez-Armesto is extremely thorough. As an author, he is witty and weaves a factual narrative that even the most history-adverse reason will find entertaining. Of course there are books that go more into depth than Pathfinders, but that is not Fernandez-Armesto's goal. He is looking at the overall picture and how all those various components of history fit together to push Europeans out into the unknown.
Apr 18, 2010 rated it liked it
I like the global and historical context he gives to exploration, and he avoids simple explanations about why exploration happened. Solid historical vignettes are sprinkled throughout. A weakness is that while lots of answers are debunked, few positive 'answers' are offered. That's better than offering simple explanations, but the book lacks some power as a result. The books moves 'laterally' very well, but does not move 'forward' as much - if this makes sense.
Nov 03, 2013 rated it liked it
I used this in my graduate historiography class in Fall 2013 in conjunction with Prof. Fernandez-Armesto's visit to campus for a symposium. For teaching, it was a good book, since there was a lot to think about in terms of the writing style and the use of varying types of evidence. The big downside for teaching is that it doesn't have an introduction (or much else in the way of apparatus). It's not really my kind of history, as -- for me -- it is too sweeping and too much "boys in boats."
Jun 06, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I read this trying to imagine what sort of "Explorer" I would have been throughout the different phases of history. Its a fascinating read, and I actually read it around the same time as I read Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, & Steal and found the two books to be complementary in understanding each of them. ...more
Robert Frecer
Jan 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Written in a witty, interesting and objective prose style. This is an amazing read if you want to know more about the early Medieval thalassocracy in Java, the colonization of Iceland by Irish hermits, the wind systems of the Indian Ocean and their influence on the region's culture, and all manner of facts and stories connected to the one theme - of the world getting back in touch with itself.
Jun 10, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Gaby
Shelves: history
Great book about Exploration. Begins in pre-history and follows through to moder day. Amazing to see how exploration has shaped mankind and has been the driving force behind so many changes over the last thousand years.
Aug 10, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: explorers
This is the kind of book that I had been looking for - and am so glad I found it. I also read his book on Amerigo, so I knew it would be good. A really fascinating book, filled with all of my heroes.
Dec 23, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Comprehensive, well illustrated, filled with the explorers comments and failures. Unbelievable what the explorers went through and did (to themselves and others) only to reemdure once barely surviving the first time.
Dec 27, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010-reads
A fairly comprehensive discussion of the exploration of the earth. Most of this was fascinating, and did not overlap too much with my memories of 6th grade history where a lot of this was discussed. It took a long time for me to read though because of the length and subject matter.
Jan 30, 2011 rated it really liked it
Pathfinders helped me to understand what I should have understood before, how "the age of exploration" is a misnomer because all ages are ages of exploration. The portion of history we refer to as the age of exploration is simply the period in which we all came back together.
Sherry Alexander
Mar 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
A thorough examination of the exploration of man, and his desire never to stay in one place too long. Pathfinders not only explores the motivations that led to exploration, but it whisks the reader into a world of understanding.
Aug 30, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Great book on the history of exploration.
Bookmarks Magazine

Few scholars are as qualified as Felipe Fern

Feb 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I love travel and I love history. This book combines the two nicely!
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Born in 1950, Felipe Fernández-Armesto was raised in London by his Spanish born father and British born mother both active journalists. As a historian, he has written numerous books on a variety of subject from American History to the Spanish Armada. He currently serves as the Principe de Asturias Chair in Spanish Culture and Civilization at Tufts University and Professor of Global Environmental H ...more

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