Felipe Fernández-Armesto

Carving Up A Continent

Empires of the Atlantic World: Britain and Spain in America 1492–1830


Yale University Press 546pp £25 order from our bookshop

The Spanish Empire was unique – without precedent or parallel in its day. There were maritime empires that tried to control trade and there were land empires that tried to control production. Only the Spanish Empire did both on such a vast scale: from Manila to Milan and from the Missouri to the Strait of Magellan. It swallowed almost in a single gulp the two states that were probably the most environmentally diverse in the early sixteenth-century world: those of the Aztecs and Incas. Spain spread commerce, contagion and cultural exchange across continents and oceans by routes never before traversed. Later, the British and French Empires registered similarly stupendous, similarly horrendous achievements on an even bigger scale. But they had the benefit of the Industrial Revolution behind them: longitude-finding mechanisms, electric telegraphy, rifled guns, steel cannon, steamships and railways, mass-produced remedies for tropical diseases and kit for tropical climes. By the time even the earliest of these advantages became available, the Spanish Empire was nearing its greatest extent. It was the first great world empire of land and sea to be constructed with pre-industrial technology.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • RT : A magnificent demolition job on this "acid laced tirade...unpleasantly self-obsessed...self pitying polemic...book… ,
    • 'Seventy years on, the time we have left to gather such first-hand testimony is running out.' John Keay on the sig… ,
    • The author 'seethes with contemptuous indignation at the shiny junk that an unregulated construction industry dumps… ,
    • 'The physical courage he demonstrated as a young man [...] gave way to intellectual power; radical thought, gifted… ,
    • 'While Jane Austen didn’t perhaps achieve the full recognition that she deserved in her lifetime, even then she out… ,
    • 'All I have is a voice To undo the folded lie, The romantic lie in the brain Of the sensual man-in-the-street And t… ,
    • 'You are interested in a particular subject; basic research hardens this interest into an obsession, after which th… ,