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Latitude Zero: Tales of the Equator
     

Latitude Zero: Tales of the Equator

by Gianni Guadalupi, Antony Shugaar (Translator)
 

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Farther and longer than any other measure on Earth, the Equator extends 24,000 miles. In a great circle it crosses the Andes and Ruwenzori Mountains, the Amazon and Congo Rivers, the Spice Islands and the Galapagos. Its latitude is zero. And it is a wholly imaginary construct, a human idea, a geographical conceit. Yet it has fascinated and challenged explorers for

Overview

Farther and longer than any other measure on Earth, the Equator extends 24,000 miles. In a great circle it crosses the Andes and Ruwenzori Mountains, the Amazon and Congo Rivers, the Spice Islands and the Galapagos. Its latitude is zero. And it is a wholly imaginary construct, a human idea, a geographical conceit. Yet it has fascinated and challenged explorers for three thousand years -- from the ancient Egyptian spice traders who sought the legendary land of Punt, to sixteenth-century Portuguese seeking a route to the Indies, to the Victorian novelist and voyager Robert Louis Stevenson. The Equator -- its location not only on the globe but also in the minds and exploits of navigators, travelers, poets, and dreamers since the dawn of civilization -- is the thread on which the eminent Italian historian Gianni Guadalupi and Antony Shugaar string some of humankind's most intriguing lore and most amazing adventures. The mysterious source of the Nile and the enigma of the Congo's swell, the perils of the Doldrums and the vicissitudes of El Nino, the quest for the lost Eden and search for El Dorado, all and much more fall within the compass of this extraordinary chronicle.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Guadalupi (The Discovery of the Nile) and Shugaar, who translated Maruzio Viroli's Niccolo's Smile: A Biography of Machiavelli, argue that the equator is "the largest manmade object on Earth" and set out to honor this imaginary 24,000-mile line with stories of those who have traveled it, explored it, exploited it, and conquered those living on it. The book is divided into various geographical and historical sections e.g., "Antiquity," "South America," "Africa," and "Asia/Oceania" and concentrates on the last five centuries. The majority of the text focuses on big names in exploration like Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Richard Burton, Henry Morton Stanley, and David Livingston; the adventures of Joseph Conrad and Robert Louis Stevenson are also covered. One fascinating tale involves the Galapagos Islands, a destitute but obsessed Austrian baroness, promiscuity, and a rash of suspicious deaths. Filled with stories that are well written and captivating, this study is recommended for public libraries. Margaret Atwater-Singer, Univ. of Evansville, IN Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A series of historical vignettes in exotic locales, skillfully woven together by Guadalupi (The Dictionary of Imaginary Places, not reviewed) and co-writer and translator Shugaar. The Equator? Merely a metaphor for the vanishing world of the tropical frontier that civilization will eventually pave over. But a nose for motive worthy of a big-city detective enables the authors to wring fresh romance and pathos from this centuries-old process. Its lure draws the obscure along with the celebrated; dreamers, scholars, adventurers, and opportunists converge along with the dangerously obsessed, often stalked by the inevitable scoundrel who waits to pick their bones. Guadalupi, a gifted historian armed with a boundless supply of corroborating detail, insinuates himself-and his readers-into the most intimate antechambers and boudoirs, no matter how remote in time or distance. We see 16th-century conquistadors lashed by icy winds on an Andean plateau, trooping inexorably toward the Equatorial rainforest that will engulf, madden, and ultimately swallow them. This is hardly fresh material: Magellan is punctured by native spears; Krakatoa blows its top; Stanley exploits Livingston. Even the wacky nude Baroness with her free-love commune in the Galapagos Islands has been the subject of several other works. But the authors, aided by Shugaar's stylishly accessible translation, add intrigue to this retelling by deftly setting the scene from both historical and geographical perspectives. (In a rare lapse, they introduce the Galapagos without mentioning the cold ocean current that makes possible the rich variety of unique flora and fauna there.) Triumph and tragedy seem equally weighted; lust for gold,power, or fame is sometimes derailed by lust for . . . well, the usual. Most satisfying are gems of defining moments, evenly paced to arrive on schedule: the jungle relents, opens its green maw and spits out the plucky if none-too-clever Victorian dilettante who proceeds to ask for a cold beer by brand name. For the armchair adventurer: history rendered as a libretto to the planet's grand opera.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780786709014
Publisher:
Basic Books
Publication date:
10/28/2001
Edition description:
ILLUSTRATE
Pages:
288
Product dimensions:
5.82(w) x 8.62(h) x 0.99(d)

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