9780393239515 198

Shores of Knowledge

New World Discoveries and the Scientific Imagination


Joyce Appleby (Author)

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An engrossing history of the voyages of exploration that ignited curiosity about nature and gave birth to modern science.

When Columbus first returned to Spain from the Caribbean, he dazzled King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella with exotic parrots, tropical flowers, and bits of gold. Inspired by the promise of riches, countless seafarers poured out of the Iberian Peninsula and wider Europe in search of spices, treasure, and land. Many returned with strange tales of the New World.

Curiosity began to percolate through Europe as the New World’s people, animals, and plants ruptured prior assumptions about the biblical description of creation. The Church, long fearful of challenges to its authority, could no longer suppress the mantra “Dare to know!”

Noblemen began collecting cabinets of curiosities; soon others went from collecting to examining natural objects with fresh eyes. Observation led to experiments; competing conclusions triggered debates. The foundations for the natural sciences were laid as questions became more multifaceted and answers became more complex. Carl Linneaus developed a classification system and sent students around the globe looking for specimens. Museums, botanical gardens, and philosophical societies turned their attention to nature. National governments undertook explorations of the Pacific.

Eminent historian Joyce Appleby vividly recounts the explorers’ triumphs and mishaps, including Magellan’s violent death in the Philippines; the miserable trek of the “new Argonauts” across the Andes on their mission to determine the true shape of the earth; and how two brilliant scientists, Alexander Humboldt and Charles Darwin, traveled to the Americas for evidence to confirm their hypotheses about the earth and its inhabitants. Drawing on detailed eyewitness accounts, Appleby also tells of the turmoil created in the all societies touched by the explorations.

This sweeping, global story imbues the Age of Discovery with fresh meaning, elegantly charting its stimulation of the natural sciences, which ultimately propelled Western Europe toward modernity.


“Like an exotic seed washed up from a distant land, Joyce Appleby’s Shores of Knowledge blossoms in marvelous ways. This supple and sparkling chronicle of discovery shows why even Columbus was baffled by his myriad discoveries, and how Europeans gradually decoded the mysteries of the New World. A lucid account of cultural transmission.” — Laurence Bergreen, author of Columbus

Shores of Knowledge is an ambitious book that covers the sweep of history from Columbus to Darwin--and finds unexpected kinship between explorers and scientists of those centuries. Science was exploration, and exploration was science. And, from Joyce Appleby’s expert retelling, we learn the many ways they thought and spoke of it too. Fascinating!” — Mark Anderson, author of The Day the World Discovered the Sun

“I found it an invigorating journey through time and space, shedding insight into the relationship between science and society.” — John Gribbin, author of Erwin Schrodinger and the Quantum Revolution

“Christopher Columbus’s landing in the Western Hemisphere in 1492 marked a decisive moment in world history. But as Joyce Appleby argues in this lucid and economically written survey of scientific thought, its intellectual impact unfolded gradually. In riveting prose, she shows how American geography, peoples, flora, and fauna forced European scientists to alter their understanding of nature. Those interested in the intersection of exploration and scientific knowledge should book passage on Professor Appleby’s charming, story-filled journey across the Atlantic and back again.” — Peter Mancall, author of The Fatal Journey

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