View previous topic | View next topic

An Error in The Book of General Ignorance

Page 1 of 2
Goto page 1, 2  Next

225282.  Wed Oct 31, 2007 4:14 am Reply with quote

Yes, it is good, and the evidence is persuasive. Certainly the Chinese are staunch advocates of Menzies' theories. I imagine it will be one of those things that slowly creeps into the public consciousness and become 'common knowledge' over the years.

226175.  Thu Nov 01, 2007 5:04 pm Reply with quote

I think there might be quite a few things wrong in the book, not just that.

229492.  Sat Nov 10, 2007 8:13 am Reply with quote

I have read the Gavin Menzies book, which makes many, many claims, and though interesting, it is not universally accepted as fact.

229496.  Sat Nov 10, 2007 8:44 am Reply with quote

Is there any discussion on t'internet that you could point us at Paul?

229526.  Sat Nov 10, 2007 11:25 am Reply with quote

There was an episode of QI (first series?) that brought up who first discovered Australia. Alan was klaxoned for Cook because both the Chinese, and before them, the aboriginals had arrived there.

229541.  Sat Nov 10, 2007 12:29 pm Reply with quote

And the Portugese, according to some.

229589.  Sat Nov 10, 2007 5:36 pm Reply with quote

The Dutch were certainly there long before Cook. Abel Tasman holidayed there in 1642.

229591.  Sat Nov 10, 2007 6:38 pm Reply with quote

Willem Janszoon is generally accepted as being the first European to visit Australia, in 1606.
William Dampier was the first Englishman to visit, in 1699.

Prof Wind Up Merchant
231060.  Thu Nov 15, 2007 3:46 pm Reply with quote

Jamie_L-M wrote:
The Book of General Ignorance says that the first man to circumnavigate the globe was Henry the Black. However, a book named 1421 by Gavin Menzies has recently come to my attention. It claims that it was in fact the Chinese fleets under Admiral Zheng He who first circumnavigated the globe, roughly 100 years before Henry the Black. The book itself is more specific, but it would take too long for me to look up more detail. I hope this has not been already discussed.

Is there any proof of this?

242737.  Mon Dec 10, 2007 3:47 pm Reply with quote

Gosh, I've just been looking at the wiki article and links.

These consist mainly of angry personal criticism, without much in the way of details. Which usually tells us nothing other than the claims are unpalletable to an interested party - although of course that doesn't mean it isn't all fantasy.

So, what's going on here? Is it all poppycock, or not? As the claims are so big, there is so much criticism, and the book has sold so well, it has to be QI going into it methinks? And, it's been on the show.


As mentioned I can't find much calm discussion around the subject; below is pretty much the entire 'calm' list I could find in a quick search, and wiki.

Overwhelmingly the content on the net is abusively critical, including wiki. (official book site)

243576.  Wed Dec 12, 2007 5:01 am Reply with quote

No opinions at all?

245017.  Fri Dec 14, 2007 4:35 pm Reply with quote

Do pardon the rather lengthy reply that follows, but do bear with me. I have an uncontrollable inclination towards being ridiculously prolix and off-tangent...

Anyway my classmates and I had an all too brief but rather interesting discussion in class a while back about this topic, particularly the validity of the arguments proffered by 1421. This discussion was sparked off after watching some documentary titled Junk History, and it essentially explored how Menzies went about creating a rather revisionist history about Ming voyages around the world in the early 15th century, with the help of a team of writers.

The documentary offers a very convincing argument as to why 1421 is such an objectionable piece of history, as many of the assertions in the book can be debunked by a myriad of primary sources. For instance, the "1763/1418" map is cited as an example of a pre-Columbus map of the world has a multitude of issues with it. Some of these issues include the fact that such a map would require the belief that the world was a sphere, but there is no existing evidence of indigenous Ming maps that reveal such a belief. Other issues are highlighted and discussed in greater detail in the articles which can be found on the site As an aside, here are some of the more memorable quotes from the documentary.

devoid of evidence, logic, scholarship and sense was just about the
nicest thing one could say about it. Because, I mean, you've got to
be either a charlatan or a cretin, you've got to be either, you
know, a kind of con man, or an innocent idiot in order to produce a
book which is so lacking in any intelligence or accuracy whatever.

The man does not mince his words.

GAVIN MENZIES, AUTHOR: I'm going to try. I haven't yet got my act
together. I think it's completely wrong that fruitcakes are
employed by universities.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: You're calling Dr Geoffrey Wade a fruitcake?

GAVIN MENZIES, AUTHOR: Yeah, absolutely.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: So it's a mutual admiration society?

GAVIN MENZIES, AUTHOR: Just about. But I've sold a hell of a lot of

As immature as these statements were, I can't help but find them funny. Anyway as I once again struggle to return to the point, the transcript to the documentary can be found here . Other links and videos of an interview with Geoff Wade can be found here. By the way, Geoff Wade is one of the contributors to and a research fellow at the National University of Singapore and is also one of the most vocal critics of Menzies. The two have been having a sort of a 'war' with each other for the past few years with regards to the book and its claims, hence the ostensible vitriol Menzies demonstrates towards him.

None of the history professors I have met have remotely spoken of Menzies as a reputable historian, they appear to have reserved their most bilious splenetic juices of fury for him. Oh, how we laughed, as my classmates and I watched as our professors scowled with the mere mention of his name and the book at any point in class. And we could only pray for the safety of any undergrad foolish enough to cite the book as a legitimate secondary source.

Anyway before I go completely and undeniably off-tangent with banal university anecdotes, I shall just say that I'm definitely not an expert in this area, so I can't come up with citations of primary sources that prove that Menzies has made false claims, and all I can do here is to merely offer some articles as a starting point that would help us to explore this topic further, hope you guys find them at least quite interesting. :)

245024.  Fri Dec 14, 2007 5:35 pm Reply with quote

Strewth, thanks for your reply, I don't consider it prolix at all - I'm delighted that you've responded.

It seems you are looking at the same situation I've found, but with more knowledge and personal interaction than me. Have the history professors you've met said anything more specific in regards to the claims, i.e. not just getting cross?

From here it looks like people shouting, on both sides, without much constructive being visible to anyone but the shoutees.

There is a ton of vitriol on the net, with the few sensible responses being only to minor points, ignoring the big ones. Can we therefore take the claims to be largely true, with the dissenters only interested in protecting the status quo of opinion?

246786.  Tue Dec 18, 2007 12:10 pm Reply with quote

I'm just glad you could even sift through the last post I wrote... And beware, this post would be just as long once again. I am genetically incapable of being concise, I swear.

Anyway the professors were probably more verbose and enlightening than merely being cross, but as a member of the ranks of inattentive undergrads, their vitriol was far more deliciously entertaining and hence, memorable. ;)

But on a more serious note, it does appear that the debate has been largely reduced to ad hominem attacks on one another, but the dissenters have raised many a pertinent point with regards to what they perceive as the fallacies of Menzies' hypothesis. I can't remember the exact details, but the main points of contention they raised ultimately highlighted the lack of evidence, either archaeological or textual, that actually support his argument. The research methods Menzies adopted were highly flawed at best and the claims end up being mere speculation. For instance, I've mentioned the issues surrounding the 1763 map and its disputable authenticity and provenance, but other pieces of evidence that Menzies has used to bolster his argument are similarly dubious and historically inconsistent, if not, completely illogical.

Other problems include how medieval maps are traditionally not used for navigation, but these mappa mundi were more of concise encyclopedias that reflected contemporary world views, with depictions of fantastic animals and wild peoples of the world as the cartographers imagined. Yet Menzies took a rather literal interpretation when treating the maps as evidence by arguing they reflected an accurate understanding of the world, so his approach and ensuing argument is already inherently contradictory and inaccurate.

Another thing I remember mentioned in the video and in the subsequent discussion we had was that Menzies took more than a few liberties with regards to Chinese navigation, as he invented currents that would then make Zheng He's journey even plausible. Because of the timeline of Zheng He's travel, or at least as Menzies proposed, it is nigh impossible for him to have taken the route he was supposed to have due to the currents and monsoons that would have essentially meant sailing against the wind.

These are just some of the more prominent logical and historical fallacies in Menzies' book, but there are plenty others. Hence it appears rather impossible, unlikely at the very best, that these voyages could have been undertaken. Menzies' hypothesis, although interesting, is just a piece of bad historical work at this point. The consternation amongst academics has perhaps degenerated into a seemingly childish argument of name-calling, but that still shouldn't detract from the basis of their argument. Fundamentally, the evidence is very much against Menzies at the moment. Perhaps evidence would be discovered in the not too distant future that might lend Menzies and his claims a bit more credibility, but as of right now, there is nothing that appears to substantiates his thesis...

251165.  Tue Jan 01, 2008 3:56 pm Reply with quote

I'm moving this thread to the Forum of General Ignorance. Please make any further comments there.


Page 1 of 2
Goto page 1, 2  Next

All times are GMT - 5 Hours

Display posts from previous:   

Search Search Forums

Powered by phpBB © 2001, 2002 phpBB Group