The Race to the New World

The Race to the New World: Christopher Columbus, John Cabot, and a Lost History of Discovery | World ex Canada: Palgrave Macmillan 2011. Canada: Douglas & McIntyre 2012.

Read “The German Connection: Munzer, Behaim, and the Cabot and Columbus Voyages”

Read an excerpt

From Palgrave Macmillan: The final decade of the fifteenth century was pivotal in world history. The Genoese mariner Christopher Columbus sailed westward into the Atlantic Ocean in 1492, determined to secure for Spain a more direct route to the riches of the Indies. But as Columbus struggled to capitalize on his momentous discovery of distant landfalls, a troubled Venetian bridge contractor in Spain, on the lam from creditors and remembered as John Cabot, audaciously reinvented himself as an explorer and mounted a rival quest for England. In The Race to the New World, Douglas Hunter tells for the first time the fascinating tale of how their high-stakes race to find a shortcut to staggering wealth threatened the precarious power balance of Europe—and how they found a New World that neither was looking for. Employing fresh research and new translations of critical documents, Hunter reveals the surprisingly intertwined nature of Columbus’s and Cabot’s lives and provides a fresh perspective on the critical first years of the European discovery of the New World.

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Reviews

“Successful historiographical detective work provides Hunter with the means to rework aspects of the careers of Christopher Columbus and John Cabot.…an intriguing account…Hunter turns what seems like a well-known story into something well worth exploring again.” —Kirkus

“A fascinating read.” —Ted Blades, CBC Radio, Newfoundland and Labrador

“In his 2007 book, God’s Mercies, Canadian author and historian Douglas Hunter produced a revelatory work by intertwining the stores of two explorers active in the early 1600s, Samuel de Champlain and Henry Hudson. In The Race to the New World, he does the same by moving to the late 1400s and interweaving the stories of John Cabot and Christopher Columbus…The Race to the New World is a painstaking work built to withstand the scrutiny of specialists. As a result, the dual narrative carries a lot of scholarly freight. But Hunter is a deft stylist with a keen eye for detail, and he brings his leading figures to life while transforming our understanding of early exploration. This one is a keeper. —Canadian Geographic

“After Columbus returned from the New World, an avaricious, corrupt Venetian bridge builder named John Cabot sniffed possibility. Maybe he could raise an armada himself and obtain what Columbus hadn’t: gold, spices, glory and wealth. He fled his Spanish creditors to England, where he convinced King Henry VII to sponsor an Atlantic expedition. Never mind that Cabot had no seafaring experience to speak of. Why England sponsored him at all is a fascinating story of political desperation and artful salesmanship amid a European struggle for wealth and power.” —Washington Post

“[Hunter is] quite good at showing how international politics impacted the voyages of exploration…a welcome addition…Highly recommended.” —Choice

“It’s hard to imagine that there is still uncharted territory in the history of the New World’s discovery. But Hunter indeed sails unsullied waters, offering an intriguing and surprising new twist on the old subject. Other historians have paralleled the voyages of Columbus and Cabot…but Hunter interweaves their stories and places them firmly into the complex geopolitical landscape of Renaissance Europe…As this fascinating historical detective story unfolds, new pieces of an old puzzle are put into place, providing fresh perspective on the traditional discovery narrative. This important contribution to the scholarship of exploration history should also please readers who enjoy well-researched revisionist histories like Nathaniel Philbrick’s Mayflower (2006).” —Booklist

“This is a well researched and clearly written account of the Columbus and Cabot voyages of discovery, the relationships between them, stitched into the broader diplomatic and mercantile context of the period. The major and peripheral characters in this intriguing drama are brought to life with unusual clarity, as are the sometimes off-beat researchers and archivists who have collected the evidence for these voyages. Using previous known and new documentary sources, Hunter has combined his skills as an historian, business writer and sailor in producing this absolutely splendid exposition on the initial European probes that opened the New World.” —Conrad E. Heidenreich, Professor Emeritus at York University, co-author of Samuel de Champlain Before 1604

“[Hunter] is a journalist and historian who has written excellent books and articles on subjects as diverse as the Edmonton Oilers, Nortel and Henry Hudson. He is currently working on his PhD at York University. If that doesn’t spoil his writing, Hunter is on track to become a major player in popular Canadian history.” —Mark Starowicz, in Literary Review of Canada