It’s one of the stranger quirks of history and geography. The continent that was supposedly discovered by Christopher Columbus is named for a decidedly second-rate Johnny-come-lately of an explorer named Amerigo Vespucci. Like Columbus, Vespucci was an Italian who sailed on occasion under the flag of Spain. But unlike Columbus, Vespucci was more at home in a counting house than a sailing ship. (Even Ralph Waldo Emerson, normally a booster of all things American, dismissed him as a mere “pickle dealer.”) What Vespucci did have, according to Felipe Fernández-Armesto’s wonderfully idiosyncratic and intelligent new biography of the explorer, was a gift for chicanery and self-promotion, along with an aching need to be remembered. As it turns out, America — this nation of notorious hucksters, dreamers and spin doctors — was named for just the right guy.
more from the NY Times Book Review here.