This post is supporting my week long look at just some of Russell Freedman’s collection of work.

Title: Who Was First? Discovering the Americas
Author: Russell Freedman
ISBN: 9780618663910
Pages: 88 pages
Publisher/Date: Clarion Books, c2007.

“For a long time, most people believed that Christopher Columbus was the first explorer to ‘discover’ America–the first to make a successful round-trip voyage across the Atlantic. But in recent years, as new evidence has come to light, our understanding of history has changed. We now know that Columbus was among the last explorers to reach the Americas, not the first.” (vi)

The thing that I probably like most about Russell Freedman’s writing style for this book is that he presents both sides of the argument regarding who was first to the “new world”. While other books might dismiss the ideas of a “retired British Navy submarine commander and a self-taught historian,” (23) Freedman devotes a whole chapter to those ideas of Gavin Menzies, published in a 2003 book, finally summarizing the debate by saying that “Despite his unscholarly methods, Menzies is not necessarily wrong.” (33) He later introduces readers to Helge Ingstad, another self-taught historian who changed the way many professionals viewed the history of the Americas. Ingstad was referred to as “one of those ‘obsessed amateurs’ who claim to know better than the experts, and at first, his theory was dismissed.” (42) His hard work eventually uncovered an archaeological find that proved conclusively that Vikings landed in America before Columbus. As always with Freedman’s work, numerous photographs, maps, citations, and an index make this another well researched book that would supplement classroom discussion around Columbus Day.

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