These books, originally four volumes published in France, 1955-1956, represent an extended attempt to relate the details of all discoveries since the beginning of the world. Under the editorship of Louis-Henri Parias, five French scholars have made their contributions in the three volumes in Spanish submitted for review. All of the volumes are very generously illustrated with black-and-white and color reproductions and fold-out maps. Convenient marginal notations facilitate skimming.
Volume I contains three sections: La Prehistoric by L.-R. Nougier; La Antigüedad by Jean Beaujeu; and La Edad Media by Michel Mollat. The first volume also includes the inevitable Argumento in which the editor likens Henry the Navigator to John the Baptist in the history of explorations, an indication and a sample of a writing style which can only be termed churrigueresque. Much of this volume may be dismissed by some purists, for, axiomatically, the material is speculative, and every historiographer should heed the admonition: No evidence, no history.
The second volume is by a single author, Jean Amsler, and concerns the fifteenth- and sixteenth-century explorations and conquests of the Spaniards and Portuguese, the latter probably receiving more recognition than would otherwise be extended, because the author is French. The final chapters are devoted to the French, the English, and the Russians, an allocation which strikes one as having been an afterthought. The usual economic and ideological motivations are advanced. Columbus’ voyages receive little more than one-tenth of the book, and this is indicative of the depth of the treatment.
Volume III, written by Pierre-Jacques Charliat, encompasses the period 1600 to 1815, the years of lesser importance, “una época de retroceso” in which “el contable tiene un papel predominante . . .” (p. 9). The elements of danger and of the unknown had largely passed. This volume is the widest reaching of the three: from Henry Hudson to Cook, Bougainville, and La Pérouse; from India, China, Africa, South America to the North Pole!
This work contains no documentation whatsoever. Very inadequate bibliographies are provided at the end of each volume (Volume I has a bibliography at the conclusion of each section); and there are no indices. The historical narratives are sound and reliable. However, I do not know who would purchase these volumes or to whom to recommend them other than Spanish-reading laymen who are fascinated with tales of discovery and adventure—and they would be better served by well-written monographs. Certainly the specialist will seek in vain for anything new or helpful.