cover image The Americas: A Hemispheric History

The Americas: A Hemispheric History

Felipe Fernandez-Armesto. Modern Library, $19.95 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-375-50476-1

For generations after European explorers discovered the New World, the Americas were seen as""one big place""; to speak about America was to speak about the whole hemisphere, says Fernandez-Armesto. It wasn't until the Revolutionary War that today's North, South and Central America became separate, unequal regions in the eyes of history and the world. Historian Fernandez-Armesto (Millenium: A History of the Last Thousand Years) makes a case here for a revival of the""unitary vision,"" arguing that only with a Pan-American perspective can we understand why the paths of the American states have diverged (with the Latin states struggling while the U.S. and Canada enjoy prosperity and political stability), and what there is to be done about it. In seven concise chapters, he moves from the first humans in the region to the present day, contending that the Americas changed""the world's image, evolutionary trajectory, revolutionary course, and the self-perception of humankind,"" as well as shifted the world's economic balance. He explodes stereotypes about the first and third worlds, proffering strong arguments that common colonial and revolutionary experiences made the Americas more similar than different for centuries. The writing is sprightly and erudite, not overly concerned with explaining established historical theories (Fernandez-Armesto assumes that readers' knowledge of the nuances of history has grown since reading school textbooks). It is not until the end of the work, when he takes on an anti-U.S. tone (the country's citizens are""cloyingly gregarious...boringly conformist""; rather than being champions of the individual they are cogs in the community wheel) that the work starts to lose its power. But the author's final urging of a mutually respectful, balanced hemisphere justifies the book's fast-paced journey through time in consideration of our shared history.