I enjoy reading about aspects of history that are little known – especially with regard to exploration. Fittingly, I recently started reading a book I got at the library by Gavin Menzies called 1421: The Year The Chinese Discovered America. In it the author discusses the Chinese treasure fleets and how they explored the globe before Columbus crossed the Atlantic, only to have the records of their journeys destroyed by the royal court.
After getting a few chapters in, I realized that the ideas put forth by the author were grand in scope. Wondering why I hadn’t heard of them before, I read some reviews of the book at Amazon, and a common response by people more versed in Chinese history than me was that it’s a great story, but it just isn’t true. Or maybe it could be true, but the author offers little evidence to support his claims.
There are great similarities between this and the world of outdoor survival books. There some great books on practical wilderness survival, but these don’t sell as well as those with grand stories that are either made-up or can’t be confirmed. We all love a good story, and the bolder it is, the better it usually spreads or sells. An example would be Joseph Knowles in his book Alone In The Wilderness, where he supposedly spent two months living in the woods of northern Maine in the early 1900’s. The book made him a star, but it turned out that it just wasn’t true. He had spent most of that time at a well-stocked cabin. But it’s still a great book, and a compelling story (and available online for free).
There are several modern books on survival that mix mystical and spiritual elements into stories about living in the woods that are very popular, providing their authors with disciple-like followings. But as loyal as these fans are, it doesn’t change the fact that it simply isn’t true, or at least can’t be proven.
The point of this post is that while we all love a good story, don’t accept the imagination of an author as fact without evidence.