Scathing Book Reviews of 1421: The Year China Discovered America, by Gavin Menzies

1421: The Year China Discovered America by Gavin Menzies is also known as 1421: The Year China Discovered the World, by those unfortunate enough to not live in America. (I keed, I keed…)  Seriously, that is its title overseas, and whether you agree with the thesis of 1421 or not, it’s safe to say that someone at Harper Collins discovered localized editions sometime in the 20th Century.

Now, as someone who’ll never forget reading about Thor Heyerdahl for the first time back in 4th Grade, I have to admit that the concept of the Chinese discovering America is intriguing, and y’know, those Aztec temples do look a lot like some Chinese restaurants I’ve been to.  When I read The Discoverers years back, I remember reading about the Chinese Treasure fleet with awe, and I would imagine one of those vessels would be easily large enough to sail across the ocean.  PBS, apparently needing something people would ACTUALLY WATCH for a pledge drive, even came out with a 1421 DVD, which no doubt now comes with a complimentary PBS tote bag for every pledge over $50.

However, the lack of solid documentation, and criticism of respected historians, combined with the recent publication of 1434, in which Menzies credits China with sparking the Italian Renaissance, makes me think that the author simply fell in love with his idea.  I’m sure he believes that China did all he claims… But I don’t.  On the other hand, no one once believed the Vikings visited North America prior to Columbus, which is now an accepted and documented fact.  However, these Scathing Book Reviews of 1421: The Year China Discovered America , think the book is like Chop Suey – apparently authentic, but not quite:

This is quite possibly the worst book ever written. A five year old could have written something that would have had more historical merit.


Menzies’ own account of his research techniques leaves one gasping with incredulity at his incompetence.


Oh, boy! This enormous example of what Samuel Eliot Morison called “moonstruck history” is a poorly edited, contradictory and irksome argument that the Chinese voyages of 1420 and following went not only to Africa, as Louise Levathes and others have documented, but circled the earth including treks to near the North and South Poles and planted colonies in North and South America.


 If you believe that little green men from outer space built Stonehenge or the Nazca lines in Peru, this is the book you want to read.


I would give this book no stars, excepting two factors. First, the part about trained otters was cool. Second, it made me laugh.


This book is both good and original, but but part that is good isn’t original and the part that is original isn’t good.


As a professor of Chinese history, I cringe now thinking about the time that I will have to take during class, time that could be used teaching about Chinese history and civilization, to disabuse students who have heard about this caper.


Eric von Danekin showed more scholarship in making his claim that aliens built the pyramids… Pseudo-science and pseudo-history are going downhill.


…I’m open to this story at the beginning. But I’m from Missouri, so when, on page 415, I find “the Mississippi River west of Kansas City” that old show-me attitude really kicks in…

…and, of course, the mandatory decrying of slipping standards:

It can only be an indictment of our currrent, media-addled culture that anyone would take this book as serious history.

…and this reviewer of 1421 believes the Chinese must’ve made one other major discovery. That’s right, the little blue pill:

I… enjoyed him having the Chinese making sperm donations throughout the New World into New Mexico and Arizona. They were definitely intrepid and must have also had Viagra.

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