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Although not the first mariner to explore North America, Henry Hudson (1565-1611) left a powerful legacy, vividly described in this richly detailed biography 400 years after his journey up what became the Hudson River. Canadian historian Hunter (God's Mercies: Rivalry, Betrayal, and the Dream of Discovery) reminds readers that 16th- and 17th-century European entrepreneurs remained obsessed with finding a shortcut to Asia. An experienced English seaman, Hudson was hired by the Dutch East India Company in 1609 to sail east above Russia. Having already failed at that route, Hudson departed with other ideas. He quickly found his way blocked by ice, but instead of returning to Holland sailed west across the Atlantic, eventually stopping near Manhattan and sailing up his eponymous river as far as present-day Albany. Hunter has clearly immersed himself in the period, producing a meticulous account of Hudson's three months in the New World. Readers may prefer to skim precise descriptions of his navigational difficulties, but few will resist the colorful personal conflicts, tortuous politics and alternately friendly and vicious encounters between Europeans and Native Americans. Photos. (Sept.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.