I nicked a book off Sa when I couldn’t find anything to read – 1421 by Gavin Menzies. The style is a little tiring, but the thesis presented is fascinating. Broadly that the Chinese discovered most of the continents long before the better known explorers, and indeed knowledge of those trips was the only thing that saved later travelers like Magellan.
Given the ‘facts’ presented, the thesis is compelling. But, there seems to be a lot of dispute from reputable historians about the ‘facts’ – e.g. see here. My net position is that it was an interesting read, but I should probably have waited until the theory had more robustness before reading the whole thing, given the thickness and the slightly tedious style. And, the uncertainy should have been made a lot clearer.
The author seems to have attracted some flack as well, painting him as almost knowingly wrong, but not caring. I am a little more charitable there – I think he is suffering from a ‘proof bias’ – one of quite a number of mental biases that people have in how they think (see a book like Judgment under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases. Yes, it is as geeky as it sounds, but I liked it). However, the publishers ought to carry more responsibility in publishing it as fact.