It was, by all accounts, a watershed year. Columbus sailed the ocean blue, landed in the New World and got the ball rolling on several centuries' worth of exploration, conquest and development. But Felipe Fernandez-Armesto's work largely ignores Columbus's journey in favour of a snapshot of the entire world, offering context and background to an event whose impact was not necessarily felt until years later. And that's the problem.
Although beautifully written and meticulously researched, each chapter comes off as a lengthy essay - a tapestry of historical fact, packed with interwoven threads from primary sources. The writer is an accomplished historian and provides an engrossing account largely drawn from the words of people who witnessed the events of various corners of the globe first-hand.
In the end, however, it is interesting information that, unlike Columbus, goes nowhere. The New World doesn't even make much of an appearance until halfway through and its presence lasts a mere 25 pages or so. Those curious about the trading routes of Africa, Malian power struggles and Chinese politics will find this book fascinating. Those who hope for an exciting journey will be disappointed.