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A Novel

Laurent Binet; Translated from the French by Sam Taylor

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Civilizations Download image

ISBN10: 0374600813
ISBN13: 9780374600815


320 Pages



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Freydis is a woman warrior and leader of a band of Viking explorers setting out to the south. They meet local tribes, exchange skills, are taken prisoner, and get as far as Panama. But nobody ultimately knows what became of them.

Fast forward five hundred years to 1492 and we're reading the journals of Christopher Columbus, mid-Atlantic on his own famous voyage of exploration to the Americas, dreaming of gold and conquest. But he and his men are taken captive by Incas. Even as their suffering increases, his faith in his superiority, and in his mission, is unshaken.

Thirty years later, Atahualpa, the last Inca emperor, arrives in Europe in the ships stolen from Columbus. He finds a continent divided by religious and dynastic quarrels, the Spanish Inquisition, Luther's Reformation, capitalism, the miracle of the printing press, endless warmongering between the ruling monarchies, and constant threat from the Turks. But most of all he finds downtrodden populations ready for revolution. Fortunately, he has a recent bestseller as a guidebook to acquiring power—Machiavelli's The Prince. The stage is set for a Europe ruled by Incas and Aztecs, and for a great war that will change history forever.


Praise for Civilizations

“A bold and thrilling experiment in counterfactual history from a masterful storyteller.”—Ángel Gurría-Quintana, Financial Times

“At once a profoundly thoughtful book and a very playful one . . . Civilizations is a page-turner. Credit here goes to both Binet and his translator, Sam Taylor, whose English prose is clipped, opinionated, and vivid . . . Civilizations is a serious success, in every sense of the word serious. If you read one novel this fall, make it this.”—Lily Meyer, NPR

“An alternate history novel for the ages.”—K.W. Colyard, Bustle

“In a mix of historical characters (including Columbus and Cervantes) and fictional ones, Binet really lets himself imagine another world so different from our own, and it’s easy to get lost in his storytelling.”—Emily Burack, Alma

Civilizations exists on a whole different tier of ambition . . . You can sense how much fun Binet is having, rearranging the cultural collage and inverting the power dynamics.”—Michael LaPointe, The Times Literary Supplement

"French author Laurent Binet is preoccupied with real-life events, AKA history, and how we tell it . . . Now, still not content just to make up some imaginary characters and have them interact, he presents something that reads more like a collection of primary sources than a conventional novel. What to call it? A historical systems novel, preoccupied with the roots of great power conflict, and the historical forces that underpin it? Or just a jeu d’esprit? It’s a bit of both, and it’s tremendous fun."The Guardian

“Glorious . . . Beneath the simple pleasure of a good story well told—and superbly translated by Sam Taylor—runs Binet’s signature brand of high-concept playfulness . . . He is a writer as interested in history as he is in playing with it, and a joker of the most intellectual variety . . . [Civilizations] is his best book yet: the work of a major writer just hitting his stride.”—Tim Smith-Laing, The Telegraph

“This translation of Binet’s ambitious work imagines a fascinating alternate universe where colonialism turned out rather differently . . . Recommended for all fans of what-ifs in history.”—Sarah Rice, Booklist

“A daring and often delightful counterfactual history of transatlantic conquest . . . [Civilizations] ingeniously configures a new framework of colonialism, with Mexico dominating the new world. Binet delights with his imaginative powers.”Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads


Read an Excerpt

Part One

The Saga of Freydis Eriksdottir

1. Erik

There was a woman named Aud the Deep-Minded, daughter of Ketill Flatnose, who had been queen. She was the widow of Olaf the White,...

About the author

Laurent Binet; Translated from the French by Sam Taylor

Laurent Binet was born in Paris, France, in 1972. He is the author of the novels The Seventh Function of Language and HHhH, which was named one of the fifty best books of 2015 by The New York Times and received the Prix Goncourt du Premier Roman. He is a professor at the University of Paris III, where he lectures on French literature.

© Enfinbref—Seix Barral

Laurent Binet

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