The Great Ages of Discovery: How Western Civilization Learned About a Wider World

The Great Ages of Discovery: How Western Civilization Learned About a Wider World

by Stephen J. Pyne
The Great Ages of Discovery: How Western Civilization Learned About a Wider World

The Great Ages of Discovery: How Western Civilization Learned About a Wider World

by Stephen J. Pyne


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For more than 600 years, Western civilization has relied on exploration to learn about a wider world and universe. The Great Ages of Discovery details the different eras of Western exploration in terms of its locations, its intellectual contexts, the characteristic moral conflicts that underwrote encounters, and the grand gestures that distill an age into its essence.

Historian and MacArthur Fellow Stephen J. Pyne identifies three great ages of discovery in his fascinating new book. The first age of discovery ranged from the early 15th to the early 18th century, sketched out the contours of the globe, aligned with the Renaissance, and had for its grandest expression the circumnavigation of the world ocean. The second age launched in the latter half of the 18th century, spanning into the early 20th century, carrying the Enlightenment along with it, pairing especially with settler societies, and had as its prize achievement the crossing of a continent. The third age began after World War II, and, pivoting from Antarctica, pushed into the deep oceans and interplanetary space. Its grand gesture is Voyager’s passage across the solar system. Each age had in common a galvanic rivalry: Spain and Portugal in the first age, Britain and France—followed by others—in the second, and the USSR and USA in the third.

With a deep and passionate knowledge of the history of Western exploration, Pyne takes us on a journey across hundreds of years of geographic trekking. The Great Ages of Discovery is an interpretive companion to what became Western civilization’s quest narrative, with the triumphs and tragedies that grand journey brought, the legacies of which are still very much with us.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780816541119
Publisher: University of Arizona Press
Publication date: 02/23/2021
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 1,202,538
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Stephen J. Pyne is an emeritus professor at Arizona State University. The Great Ages of Discovery consolidates and amplifies his work on the history and meaning of exploration by the West. He has also written widely on the history of fire.

Table of Contents

Prologue: Europe on the Edge 3

Book 1 Voyages of Discovery

1 The Renaissance Explores 17

2 Sails for the Wind to Fill 20

3 God, Gold, and Glory 29

4 Where No Human Being Ever Sailed 39

5 Isles 51

6 Portuguese Paradigm 56

7 The Armada de Molucca Circumnavigates the Globe 63

8 Encountering 66

9 The Other New World 79

10 The Great Conjunction 96

11 The Discoverers and the Discovered 103

12 Ebb Tide 111

Book II Corps of Discovery

1 The Enlightenment Explores 123

2 Grand Tours and Great Excursions 129

3 Motives and Motivators 145

4 Something Old, Something New 153

5 Alexander von Humboldt Ascends the Heights 163

6 Crossing Continents 169

7 Second Looks, Repeat Encounters 192

8 Lost Horizons 198

Book III Missions of Discovery

1 Modernism Explores 213

2 The Great Game Goes Global, and Beyond 219

3 Ice 225

4 Space 231

5 Abyss 241

6 Modern Exploration, Modernist Paradox 252

7 Voyager Traverses the Solar System 260

8 New Realms, New Regimes 263

9 Before and After 271

10 Looking Back, Looking Ahead 281

Epilogue: Earth on the Edge 289

Author's Note 295

Notes 299

Selected Bibliography 313

Index 319

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