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A Novel

Laurent Binet; Translated from the French by Sam Taylor


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opens in a new window Civilizations Download image

ISBN10: 1250858879
ISBN13: 9781250858870

Trade Paperback

320 Pages



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C. 1000 CE: Erik the Red’s daughter heads south from Greenland
1492: Columbus does not discover America
1531: The Incas invade Europe

Freydis is the leader of a band of Viking warriors who get as far as Panama. Nobody knows what became of them . . .

Five hundred years later, Christopher Columbus is sailing for the Americas, dreaming of gold and conquest. Even after he is captured by the Taínos, his faith in his superiority and his mission is unshaken.

Thirty-nine years after that, Atahualpa, the last Inca emperor, arrives in Europe. What does he find? The Spanish Inquisition, the Reformation, capitalism, the miracle of the printing press, endless warmongering between the ruling monarchies, and constant threat from the Turks. But most of all, downtrodden populations ready for revolution. Fortunately, he has a recent guidebook to acquiring power—Machiavelli’s The Prince. It turns out he is very good at it. So, the stage is set for a Europe ruled by Incas 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

“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

"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

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

“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, the warrior-king...

About the author

Laurent Binet; Translated from the French by Sam Taylor

Laurent Binet lives and works in France. His first novel, HHhH, was an international bestseller that won the prestigious Prix Goncourt du premier roman, among other prizes. His second novel, The Seventh Function of Language, won the Prix du Roman Fnac and the Prix Interallié. Civilizations is a bestseller and won the Grand Prix du roman de l’Académie française.

Sam Taylor is an award-winning literary translator and novelist. His four novels have been translated into ten languages, and he has translated more than sixty books from the French, including Laurent Binet’s HHhH and Leila Slimani’s The Perfect Nanny.

© Enfinbref—Seix Barral

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