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Neither Christopher Columbus nor his contemporaries thought the earth was flat. Yet this curious illusion persists today, firmly established with the help of the media, textbooks, teachers, and even noted historians. This is Russell's attempt to set the record straight. He begins with a discussion of geographical knowledge in the Middle Ages, examining what Columbus and his contemporaries actually did believe, and then moves to a look at how the error was first propagated in the 1820s and 1830s and then "snowballed" to outrageous proportions by the late 19th-century. Russell also discusses why we allow this error to persist. Do we prefer to languish in a comfortable and familiar error rather than discover the truth?
JEFFREY BURTON RUSSELL is Professor of History at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He has contributed numerous articles to scholarly journals and reference volumes and is the author of 16 other books on medieval history, the history of religion, and intellectual history, including A History of Heaven: The Singing Silence (1997).