21 April 2008

Chapter 6

So, the first thing that I wanted to know about when I started chapter six is this extinct warrah - the Falklands' fox. Wikipedia to the rescue! They had this public domain picture in their entry for the Falkland Island Fox. There's a little bit more information on Wikipedia, but you can't expect a whole lot for a species that went extinct almost 150 years ago! Mr. Menzies says that he thinks these are the descendants of the dogs left behind & promises more on his website, but I couldn't find anything when I looked this evening.

My next thought was to wonder where the Falkland Islands are. One of the things that this book has definitely done for me is to show me how poor my geography is! Happily, Wikipedia answered that question too: the south tip of South America. Here's another map, one that's a bit easier to look at.

Errr.... more later. It's time for bed.

08 April 2008

Finding yet more stars by wandering around Antarctica

Alright, in continuing our discussion of how much navigation detail Mr. Menzies puts in the book, Chapter 6 is no exception. The author spends a lot of time providing evidence for his postulations, which is good. However, I feel like he spends so much time taking about his methods of deduction that I lose track of where the characters of the story are and what they're doing. (this could be just my deficiency and short attention span when reading a non-fiction book) But I frequently feel as though he's stalled out the story with his long descriptions of discovering ways to measure latitudes (didn't we just talk about that in chapters 4 & 5?) and repetitive retracing of his line of deduction.

I find it quite amusing that Mr. Menzies doesn't do much to conceal his disdain of European explorers. Not to say that I think Columbus or Magellan were saintly gentlemen by any means, but it rather seems that Mr. Menzies is indignant on behalf of the Chinese who's nautical achievements have been so overlooked and that indignation manifests in snarky commentary on their European counterparts. Pages 172 and 173 sketch out a description of Magellan that is almost as unflattering as the one for Columbus in earlier chapters. Seriously, I am firmly convinced that history is really all about the historian spinning the tale.

However, I cannot help but be astonished again and again at the amazing aptitude of the Chinese as they sailed around the world and were able to discern the circumference of the earth and triangulate their position with the stars and discovered a way to track longitude. And their sailing prowess; Mr. Menzies description of sailing the Strait of Magellan is a powerful example of the sailors' skill.

It must have been a treacherous journey. I was struck by how much these sailors gave up in agreeing to go on this trek. A ship wrecked off the coast of Australia, and the ship's description fits that of one from the Chinese fleet, and there is a legend among the Aborigines of "yellow men" settling in among them. Can you imagine the change of life that must have been? Yikes.