Amerigo Vespucci Essay - Critical Context

Nina Brown Baker

Critical Context

Amerigo Vespucci carries a clear message: Vespucci contributed to knowledge. Nina Brown Baker contrasts Columbus, who sought riches and power, with Vespucci, who practiced tolerance and sought the truth. Columbus lost all, while Vespucci kept his wealth and gained honor.

American writer Baker acknowledged that she wrote with a purpose and that she liked writing biographies. Out of the twenty biographies that Baker wrote, twelve feature heroes from nations other than the United States because, through their lives, she could promote an understanding of other cultures. Her first biography, He Wouldn’t Be King (1941), celebrates Simón Bolívar. It won the Intra-American Award of the Society for the Americas. Her other biographies of foreign heroes include Juarez: Hero of Mexico (1942) and Bruce: King of Scots (1948). Baker’s biographies of Americans include Nickels and Dimes: The Story of F. W. Woolworth (1954) and Nellie Bly (1956), which was reissued in 1972.

Baker’s sixteenth biography, Amerigo Vespucci, exemplifies her method of writing. After reading from a number of authoritative sources, she made an outline of dates of significant events. In Amerigo Vespucci, the first event portrayed is Amerigo’s being alone at night so that he can study the constellations. Other events that show his eagerness to learn make up much of the biography. In old age, he reaps the benefits of his learning: Continents are named for him and the king appoints him pilot major. Through this position, he passes on his knowledge to people who continue to explore and to contribute to knowledge.