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The Americas: A Hemispheric History

(Modern Library Chronicles #13)

3.28  ·  Rating details ·  163 ratings  ·  24 reviews
In this groundbreaking work, leading historian Felipe Fernández-Armesto tells the story of our hemisphere as a whole, showing why it is impossible to understand North, Central, and South America in isolation without turning to the intertwining forces that shape the region. With imagination, thematic breadth, and his trademark wit, Fernández-Armesto covers a range of cultur ...more
Paperback, 256 pages
Published January 17th 2006 by Modern Library (first published January 1st 2003)
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Sep 03, 2012 rated it did not like it
Professor Fernández-Armesto's book attempts to be a number of things, primarily a popular treatment of the comparative history of the American supercontinent. It seeks to poke holes in certain old sentiments of "Americanness," but comes off as smug and elitist in a number of ways, while remaining sadly far behind contemporary scholarship. While some readers might appreciate a reduction of more complex arguments regarding geographic determinism - like those found in Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, a ...more
Jun 03, 2009 rated it really liked it
As I’m apparently the only person in the US that gets slightly offended when the term “American” is used solely to represent us/US gringos (I’ve asked numerous South American friends and oddly they don’t seem to give a crap), I really enjoyed this book. Part of the pleasure comes from the author’s ability to condense the thick history of the post-Columbian Americas into just over 200 pages, yet it comes off as quite comprehensive.

The effusive writing reeks of an Iberian intellectual, yet his we
Apr 09, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: world-history
I originally came in contact with this book while TAing for a year-long course on the history of "The Americas." As a companion book to the course, this book is useful, as it is short and easy-to-read. However, to read on its own, it just isn't my cup of tea. I kept wondering why he would go on for two pages about one subject and then seemingly forget about other details that I would consider important. I understand that these criticisms are largely unfair because the writing of such a slim volu ...more
Really a great introduction to the hemispheric approach to American history, perfect for teaching and for those who don't have much background in the history of the hemisphere. I wanted to rate it higher, but there were several oddities that made me feel like he wasn't as well versed in the literature as he needed to be, which then made me doubt stuff that I don't have an expertise in. (E.g., he underplays the significance of the post-contact demographic catastrophe; has a simplistic definition ...more
Jun 24, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I picked this up under the assumption that it would be a light, narrative-style pop history of the Americas. Instead I found philosophically-based essays in which the author made strong assumptions about the reader's knowledge base (not all accurate in my case, unfortunately-- not that that's the author's fault) and routinely dropped five-to-seven-syllable gobstoppers like patrimonialism and embourgeoisement. Not a bad book, per se, but contrary to my expectations and therefore disappointing.
Michael Schmidt
Aug 27, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
In a world of specialists, generalists are usually underappreciated and histories of entire continents are a rarity, but fortunately that is starting to change with the decline of narrow nationalistic histories in favour of advances in transnational studies, as well as the current fad of sweeping histories-of-everything swabbed on big canvasses. That is not to say that Fernández-Armesto does a shoddy job: on the contrary, his tale of the reversal of the magnetic pole of fortune that defined succ ...more
Oct 23, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: read-in-2018
Often factually inaccurate, deeply offensive to and ignorant of North American indigenous culture and activism, flippant in dismissing theory without putting in the work to build its own, wildly antisemitic in one key point, and completely unsourced but for a slapdash, unannotated bibliography at the end.

Do not recommend; read the Steins or Stern instead.

ETA: if you’ve already read it and need a curative, Robin Wall Kimmerer and Pekka Hämäläinen are good for the soul and intellect.
Kyle Sullivan
Oct 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A satisfactory attempt to understand, explain the Western Hemisphere as a whole. Satisfactory in that certain large-scale trends are only viewable at great objective heights of time and space. The conclusions are debatable, but the attempt itself is worth the read. Felipe is wordy - a style he displays with all his popular work. But his command of the material is also a joy in the reading.

The story of the American Hemisphere is extraordinary. This book offers some really good thoughts on the ma
Having to abandon this book as I couldn't take it seriously without any sources, references or footnotes, especially when it made huge generalisations without giving evidence or even reasons.

The ideas on how to approach the history of the Americas as well as the controversy over how to define them/it were pretty interesting but as I'd have to read a lot further to see behind his claims which makes it about as useful as someone I've met down the pub telling me the history of the Americas.

As a s
Joel Bass
Jul 20, 2007 rated it really liked it
If you enjoyed Guns, Germs and Steel for its big-picture examination of long-term cultural trends, you might enjoy zooming in just a bit on the more recent history of the Americas. Just as Jared Diamond's book attempted to explain why different cultures evolve differently, The Americas follows the turbulent history of the New World, from the first human migrations up to today. Only when the Americas are studied collectively, argues Fernandez-Armesto, can one start to understand how we arrived wh ...more
Chase Parsley
Jun 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
3.5/5 stars. The title sums it up: Felipe Fernandez-Armesto attempts to interpret the vast history of the American continents in only 200 tightly-written pages. The Modern Chronicles is an excellent series, and in my opinion this book fares about average in comparison to some of the other entries.

My favorite parts were about an examination of the very word "American", the parallels and differences between North and South America, what made the United States so "great", and the history of the col
Sep 06, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: general-history
A good introduction to the history of the Americas. There's a lot that I could quibble with but all in all it is a very good introduction.

But his suggestion that history has nothing to teach us because it is all about perspective sticks in the craw. If that is that case, then history has no function beyond interesting story and no more. I don't believe any historiography is wholly objective but I don't believe it's entirely subjective either. Both are extremes and disingenuous.

It was perhaps a bit overambitious of the author to attempt to provide a comparative history of such a vast land mass as the Americas into just under 200 pages, but if you view this book as a mere introduction then it serves that purpose well. The language is a little overly philosophical and flowery in places for my personal liking, but it does make some excellent points throughout, especially when discussing the ideas behind the word/name 'American', what this meant and how it's evolved over t ...more
Tarun Rattan
Aug 19, 2014 rated it really liked it
I read this book when I'd planned my first visit to Latin America with a view to understand South American history and culture. In the book Armesto explained the historic events and cultural aspects in a unique style that anybody interested in American continent would find it useful. It did help prepare me for some of the cultural differences that any first traveler experiences visiting a new place normally faces.
Millie Yule
A good overview of the history of the Americas and introduced me to a history I knew little about. However, the surety of some of the claims made were questionable and often not substantiated, such as the insistence that Ireland is an American country on the wrong side of the Atlantic. An interesting book when stripped of the sophistry and pomposity, but it became a chore to read and I was glad when it was over.
Frank Kelly
Mar 13, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2014, cuba, latin-america
A very broad, at times polemical and clearly left of center history of all of the Americas in 225 short (and small) pages. Perhaps the most valuable part of the book, believe it or not, is bibliographical essay at the end. Lots of great sources to expand my studies of the Americas - particularly Central and South America.
Nov 16, 2011 is currently reading it
Shelves: abandoned
Actually, I am no longer attempting to read this. It's excellent, but keeps taking a back seat to other books...

I attempted to create an 'abandoned' category for my books, but for reasons that remain a mystery, Goodreads will not allow me to put this book into it!
Bruce Thomas
Nov 12, 2016 rated it did not like it
Boring and apologetic to all but the U.S.; did point out how European advancement resulted from New World development. Resulting from this book I stopped calling the U.S. "America" because that diminishes much of the remaining western hemisphere.
Aaron[loves clara]
Sep 02, 2008 rated it did not like it
possibly one of the worst, boring books i've ever read
May 22, 2012 rated it did not like it
Read the entire book in a day for AP World History.

Didn't remember a single thing. :)
John Beeler
Jul 03, 2007 rated it really liked it
Let's hear it for transatlanticism!
Jul 28, 2008 rated it liked it
A very quick read.
Dec 18, 2016 rated it it was ok
Comprehensive, informative, thoughtful including narratives beyond common ways of thinking about The Americas. I found it incredibly boring.
Mar 03, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: americana
Fernández-Armesto is on his strongest ground when making the case for a much wider consideration of Americanness and the parallels and important distinctions in the colonizing experience. His work is at its least compelling, however, when he tries to straddle both of the complicated worlds he inhabits--as a Spanish-British intellectual in America, he is notably European in some of his views, without seeming to acknowledge his own bias as a descendant of the people in the two major colonizing nat ...more
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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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