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A World on the Move: The Portuguese in Africa, Asia, and America, 1415-1808.

In the introduction to his new work, A World on the Move, Russell-Wood reminds the reader how little attention Portugal has received either from academics or from lay people in the hoopla over the Columbian quincentennial. As historians have become fascinated with the history of expansion and cross-cultural contact, the Portuguese, despite their precocious interest in global exploration, have been relegated to a distant second place in the literature behind the Spanish and Columbus' landfall in the Caribbean. Moreover, the Portuguese role in early modern exploration has been attenuated by the lack of synthetic works on the Portuguese world. Russell-Wood attempts to rectify this situation with a work of extraordinary breadth. A World on the Move not only examines the Portuguese interaction in Africa, Asia, and America, but also shows the amazing connections between the far reaches of the Portuguese empire. By working thematically rather than geographically, he demonstrates how a few thousand Portuguese linked the world biologically, culturally, economically, and racially.

Russell-Wood's explicit goal is to portray the dynamism of the Portuguese world. He divides his analysis into five categories: the modes of transportation used to create the empire, the various groups of people who travelled it, the merchandise they carried across the seas, the exchange of plants and animals, and two chapters on cultural exchange. In each chapter he takes the reader on a whirlwind journey from continent to continent. Russell-Wood uses brief biographies of dozens of travellers, politicians, clergy, merchants and others to depict the creation of an empire upon which the sun never set.

In many ways Russell-Wood achieves his goal. By the end of the book the reader realizes that the Portuguese did more things in more places than one would ever have expected. Furthermore, he admirably succeeds in the difficult task of interconnecting the histories of four continents and four centuries. The variety of information that Russell-Wood has acquired is truly impressive. Unfortunately, although his format conveys the dynamism of the Portuguese empire, too much material is surveyed too superficially. The book contains too many lists of plants, of animals, of subjects of portraits, of rivers and so forth, without the requisite analysis. Russell-Wood, overwhelmed by the immensity of his task, sacrifices the quality of experience to the quantity of experience. The book does not provide the reader with a sense of the richness of the Portuguese interactions around the globe. Nor does he offer the reader any serious evaluation of the long-term consequences of these interactions.

Despite its flaws, this work fills a void. It provides a rapid-fire introduction to early modern exploration in general and the Portuguese expansion in particular.

COPYRIGHT 1995 Renaissance Society of America
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Copyright 1995, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:Poska, Allyson M.
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1995
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