Felipe Fernández-Armesto's history books

I often find myself drawn to Felipe Fernández-Armesto’s books, which usually tackle a very broad historical subject. A bit like what Braudel used to do with A History of Civilizations, Civilization and Capitalism or his many works on the Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World.

From Fernández-Armesto, there’s Civilizations: Culture, Ambition, and the Transformation of Nature which has been on my “to buy (?)” list since 2004. However, I’m always put off by the mixed reviews that all his works get on Amazon. They are usually rated 3 - 4 stars but with huge divergence of opinion. For the book I’ve just mentioned, you see this:

5 star: 36%
4 star: 35%
3 star: 10%
2 star: 13%
1 star: 6%

So, clearly mostly positive but 19% (very) negative reviews is not something I can overlook. While his erudition and thought-provoking approach are praised, his allegedly weak grasp on the material is a big problem for the critics.

I only read one of his books: Pathfinders: A Global History of Exploration. I enjoyed it and learned quite a few interesting tidbits but I wasn’t completely enthusiastic. And I did notice one extremely lazy instance of copy-pasting a whole paragraph in two different chapters, which rubs me the wrong way.

So, should explore his works or look for better alternatives (apart from Braudel whose works I’ve read / plan on reading soon)?

Read it for your own enjoyment. Why let the opinions of others deter you?

Well, if they were novels or poetry, I’d definitely check them out in spite of what reviewers write.

For non-fiction however, reliability is a big factor in my choice. You see, there are lots of subjects that I’m curious about without being necessarily passionate. That means that I’ll only buy one or two books about them, just to have an idea of the topic. If said books are marred with serious mistakes, I’ll get other, more reliable ones.

Try J.H. Elliot’s Empires of the Atlantic World (a comparison of the British and Spanish Empires), or Robin Blackburn’s The American Crucible (slavery). There are numerous works published recently on “Atlantic history” and “world history” if you like that wide canvass.