Library Book Bingos exist for two reasons: 1. clearing my shelves of books that would have otherwise sat there and 2. challenging myself to learn new things.
I don’t really like the second purpose. I prefer to read what I want to read and that is that. But this summer, all of my local libraries are doing Ocean themed bingos (boring!). One of them required a biography of a seafaring explorer.
I knew little about Amerigo Vespucci, the man from which the word “America” likely derives from. I knew that he was maybe a pornographer, though this is disputed, and that he didn’t discover all that is attributed to him. But I was still surprised to find that a search of books about him provided scant information. There are volumes written about Columbus, Magellan, Vasco da Gama, etc. Why not the man for whom our continent is named for?
This little ditty turned up for free in Kindle. And it’s possibly the most instructive thing I’ve read in a long time. And also, the perfect 4th of July read for this particular occasion.
The book starts off with a history scholar giving a slim biography of Vespucci (this is by necessitation as there’s really not much on the man). In it, the scholar completely tears down any myths surrounding the “explorer,” claiming that he made it all up, ripping off most of his stories from someone named Hojeda* spreading the myths throughout Italy (but not Spain where they could’ve been disproven), and letting the powers that be buy them hook, line and sinker. You then have the two letters of Vespucci that can accurately be attributed to his writing (in its inaccurate claims of glory) talking about your typical colonization bs (some folks nice, some folks terrible, cannibals, oversexed, violently matriarchal, etc.). All scribed in dry, obsequious prose with a total meta moment of Vespucci realizing he is boring the King and Queen with his writing. After that, there are various letters and testimonies that continue to tear into the apparently horrible person that was Amerigo Vespucci.
As I said, this is the perfect July 4th reading. With the Supreme Court gutting human rights, a party giving fascists a big ol’ bear hug, and a grotesque imbalance between the haves and have nots, one can see the world western powers envisioned when they “settled” in the new lands. In that sense, a clown like Amerigo Vespucci provides the perfect name for the continents hegemonic power that is currently cannibalizing its citizens. “What is a fascist state but a colonial power colonizing itself?” is a quote attributed to Franz Fanon. Reading the slim, painful but essential volume shows how these dreams are now folding in on themselves, not just in the States, but in Britain (Brexit), France (National Front), Spain (1/100th of the world power it used to be) and the rest of Europe.
3 stars alone for the scholarship.
*And in case you think it’d be better to name our continents Hojeda: the guy was a slaver. So: no.