cover image LATITUDE ZERO: Tales of the Equator

LATITUDE ZERO: Tales of the Equator

Gianni Guadalupi, . . Carroll & Graf, $26 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-7867-0901-4

Several years ago, U.S. fighter pilots testing computer-guided navigation were surprised when the autopilot system flipped their planes as they passed over the Equator and into negative latitude. Of course, it was negative only according to the general belief that "the history of the world has almost always been written from a point of view situated around forty-five degrees latitude [i.e., the Northern Hemisphere]." Guadalupi (coauthor of The Dictionary of Imaginary Places) and Shugaar (translator of Niccolo's Smile) hope to unveil what has fascinated—and often frightened—explorers as they traveled along the equator, the longest line on Earth. The authors center their histories and themes on three places along Latitude Zero: South America and the Spanish search for mythic El Dorado; Africa and the geographical exploration of the Nile and Congo river systems; the South Pacific and seafaring adventure. Their project is more a revisitation of a worthy subject than a narrative of new discovery. The names, places and histories are familiar (Sir Walter Raleigh and his failed trip to find the city of gold; Stanley and Livingston tromping through the African hinterland; Magellan's incomplete circumnavigation of the globe; the eruption of Krakatoa). More discouraging is their desire to uncover tales of the equator while operating under historically Western European assumptions. (Their insistence on referring to Africa as the "Dark Continent" particularly lacks irony.) Although it doesn't demonstrate rigorous scholarship, this book is nevertheless well written and entertaining—a good chronicle of adventure and attempted conquest. Illus. (Jan.)