A central theme—that the purpose of an individual’s life is to add to the world’s store of knowledge—unites the events that Baker selects to tell in Amerigo Vespucci. Vespucci becomes Baker’s heroic embodiment of this theme.
Amerigo’s preparation for adding to the store of knowledge began when Uncle Giorgio took him into the monastery for intensive schooling. During the fifteen years Amerigo studied, he copied maps for Dr. Toscanelli, then considered to be the world’s greatest geographer. One copy of this map showing a globe-shaped world without the American continents was sent to an unknown sailor who wanted to sail west to reach India.
After Vespucci left the monastery, he went to Paris with another uncle who traveled as a representative of the Medici business. From this uncle, he learned business practices and social skills. Within two years, Vespucci himself worked for the Medici family. In 1491, he was the Medici representative in Seville, where he first met Christopher Columbus, the sailor for whom he had copied the Toscanelli map and for whom he now equipped ships. These ships for Columbus’ second voyage west would carry the men and supplies to colonize the Indies. Alonso de Hojeda, Columbus’ second-in-command, teased Vespucci about coming along on the voyage, but, at forty-one, Vespucci saw himself as a businessman, not an explorer.
Hojeda returned to Spain after leaving the colonists with...
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