Last week, we took Book Club to a new level with a guest appearance by the author – Belmont’s own Toby Lester – of our chosen book, The Fourth Part of the World. I had worried that such an august presence would impede the club’s traditional focus on wine, gossip and whingeing about our jobs, but we had plenty of time for all four parts.
Lester’s book is a vivd and polymathematical ramble across a few centuries of history leading up to the European “age of discovery” largely seen through the prism of mapmakers, especially a certain Waldseemüller, who in 1507 first printed “America” on a map of the hemisphere from which I am now writing. We got a fresh look at some familiar figures like Marco Polo and Christopher Columbus and some wonderfully-told new (to most of us) stories. Have you heard of Prester John?
The Fourth Part of the World reminds us that Columbus was nowhere near the first to conceive of the world as round, and it tells the story of many approximations close and not so close of the actual size of the globe, and the gradual discovery by Europeans of the true arrangement of the continents and their contents. Looking at the beautiful plates I was reminded that while today’s schoolchildren are pretty clear on the roundness of the earth, they might not be as clear on the arrangement or content of the lands upon it.
Perhaps you remember last Fall’s grumbling about non-educational globes for sale at Target? Well, a quick scan of DonorsChoose shows over 100 classrooms in the US in need of globes and maps. So, as if you haven’t been harangued enough on this blog to do some good in the world, I urge you to consider giving some of your holiday charity budget to one of these worthy projects – our children need the best understanding of the shape of the world and its different people that they can get.