A few years ago Gavin Menzies' book 1421 was published1 amidst a blaze of publicity and controversy, rather than discuss the “merits”, zero in my opinion, of Menzies’ worthless piece of pseudo-scientific garbage.2 I will briefly discuss what we know about how this piece of “scholarship” was manufactured.
I used the word manufactured quite deliberately above, because yes indeed this book was not “researched” or “written” it was manufactured quite deliberately and coldly to make the publisher, and yes the writer, boodles of cash, with of course absolutely no qualms, ethical, moral or simply prudent whatsoever.
Let us go through the steps by which this work of no value was manufactured from the bowels of a shameless publisher.
It all stated when Menzies and his wife traveled to China for their silver wedding anniversary. While visiting the Forbidden City in Beijing Menzies noticed that the dates of all sorts of buildings etc., was the date 1421. Which was the year the capital was moved from Nanjing to Beijing during the reign of the Yongle Emperor.4
Menzies decided to write a book about the year 1421 in China and the rest of the world. The result was a huge book of 1,500 pages. By this time Menzies had acquired an agent who told him that the manuscript has written was un-sellable. However his agent did have a few suggestions…5
In a very small part of the manuscript Menzies had a far out speculation about Admiral Zheng He’s subordinates exploring the world c. 1421. The agent suggested Menzies dump the rest of the book and expand that section massively.
And I then said to him, ‘Look, let's forget what was happening in France and Germany and Britain in the 15th century, let's just look at this one episode and let's make the whole book the story of how China discovered America.’6
Further it was decided to get the media involved in publicizing Menzies’ idea. The agent even decided to rewrite some of the chapters. So a public relations company was contacted and got involved and soon a story was published in the Daily Telegraph and further Menzies gave a talk at the Royal Geographical Society, (they will rent to anyone it seems). Soon major publishers were interested.7
The publisher finally selected was Transworld and one of its subsidiaries Bantam Books. They offered 500,000 pounds for the world rights to 1421. A problem was that despite the extensive expansion of that short section by Menzies the book was still only 190 pages and apparently was badly written and confusing to look at. So Bantam decided to “improve” the manuscript. Supposedly Menzies was told that he could not write.8
It was dry as dust. And Transworld said, "Well" - after they bought it, they said, "You know, this is a great book, potentially, but nobody's going to read it. You know, if you want to get your story over, you've got make it readable, and you can't write, basically." I mean, in a sort of polite way.9
So they had a large staff of supposedly 130 people work on “improving” the book including a ghost writer by the name of Neil Hanson. All the research remained Menzies however and despite the large resources devoted to “improving” the book, zero effort seems to have gone into checking out the books claims.10
As one of the publishers said:
It's very hard to prove that something is or is not correct. I mean, we do have to rely on our authors - we - we simply don't have the time. I mean, we work full - flat out publishing the books, bringing them to press, marketing them, publicising them, selling them - we can't possibly go through all our books and check every single one of them out for factual accuracy.11
Where does one begin with such bold faced cheek! The fact is they devoted extensive resources to “improving” the book, including hiring a ghost writer, and then to marketing the book. It would not have been all the difficult to have the book checked out by a few experts in maritime and Chinese history or to have hired a fact checker to check out a few things.
The bottom line is that the publisher could not be bothered to do anything that might throw a monkey wrench into their desire to earn mega-profits from this piece of dribble.
One of the publishers did say:
What Gavin was claiming, was, of itself, a step away from orthodox history, and anything that says - that does - that is, can be, sensational, or certainly different. And we're always looking for things - as are lots of people - that really go up against conventional wisdom, and this is what I thought this book did.12
Roughly translated we saw this as a bit of sensationalistic clap-trap that would make us much boodle. Of course it was deliberately marked as sensationalistic and a “controversy” was manufactured out of whole cloth, by the publisher as a way of boosting sales of the book.13
Typical of the mindset of the publisher was the claim on the book that Menzies was born in China. He wasn’t; he was born in London.14
The book was published and quite predictably got a torrent of vicious reviews, but well over a million were sold, the book has been translated into many languages and will into the future make even more boodle for Menzies and his publishers.15
The result has been that Menzies is well known and is a sought after public speaker and his book and its equally worthless follow up 1434,16 are selling very well.
This book as been described as:
The most successful book of pseudohistory to appear since Ignatius Donnelly’s Atlantis: the Antidiluvian World over a hundred years earlier. The difference between the books is that when Donnelly wrote his research had some scientific and historical credibility based on the state of knowledge at the time. Menzies’ hypothesis and research has withered under the light of intelligent and informed criticism from the very beginning. His success has been the result of an extensive publicity and marketing campaign that ignored established scholarship and expert opinion in favour of sensationalistic and unwarranted speculation at every step of the way.17
It is clear that the publisher did not and does not care about the truth of Menzies absurd ideas, but cares very much about making acres of cash. By outrageous manipulation and yes “brazen effrontery” they have done precisely that.
1. Menzies, Gavin, 1421, Harper Perennial, New York, 2004.
2. For some critical reviews of Menzies see Findlay, Robert, How Not to (Re)Write World History, Journal of World History, v. 15. no. 2, June 2004, at Here, Hartz, Bill, Gavin’s Fantasy Land, at In the Hall of Maat, at Here,Dutch, Steven, 1421, at Steve Dutch Home Page, Here.,See also this website with lots of articles: The ‘1421’ Myth Exposed, at Here. The above is just some of the critical analysis on the web.
4. Fritze, Ronald H., Invented Knowledge, Reaktion Books, London, 2009, p. 99.
5. IBID. pp. 99-100. The agent’s name is Luigi Bonomi. I hope he enjoyed the money from his pact with the devil. See also Four Corners, Junk History, Broadcast on July 31, 2006, Transcript at Here.
6. Junk History.
7. Fritze. p. 100. The public relations company was Midas Public Relations. See Junk History also.
9. Junk History.
10. IBID., Fritze, p. 100.
11. Junk History.
13. IBID. Fritze, pp. 101-102.
14. Junk History.
15. Fritze, pp. 101-102.
16. Menzies, Gavin, 1434, Harper Perennial, New York, 2009. This book seems to be as much a calculated effort to make moolah as 1421. See The ‘1421’ Myth Exposed, above for some well deserved tearing apart of this book.
17 Fritze, p. 103.