2010 Peace Corps Writers Award for Best Travel Book won by Toby Lester


PEACE CORPS WRITERS is pleased to announce that The Fourth Part of the World: The Race to the Ends of the Earth, and the Epic Story of the Map that Gave America Its Name by Toby Lester (Yemen 1988–90) has won the 2010 Award  for the Outstanding Travel Book published by a Peace Corps writer during 2009. Lester will receive a framed certificate and a prize of $200.

Picked as one of the best books of 2009 by the Washington Post, American Heritage, the Seattle News Tribune, and the Kansas City Star, The Fourth Part of the World also was selected as a Wall Street Journal History Bestseller, received a Barnes & Noble Discover Award, and was selected by Indie Booksellers for its November 2009 Indie Next List.

In his review for our site David A. Taylor (Mauritania 1983–85) summed up,

Lester’s book is a celebration of the rare instances where curiosity and persistence triumph, and monument to the more frequent tragic cases in which people force their experience of the world into the smaller vessels of their own prejudices. In containing both, The Fourth Part of the World does justice to the double-edged sword of knowledge and discovery.

For millennia Europeans believed that the world consisted of three parts: Europe, Africa, and Asia. They drew the three continents in countless shapes and sizes on their maps, but occasionally they hinted at the existence of a “fourth part of the world,” a mysterious, inaccessible place, separated from the rest by a vast expanse of ocean. It was a land of myth — until 1507, when Martin Waldseemüller and Mathias Ringmann, two obscure scholars working in the mountains of eastern France, made it real with what is now known as the Waldseemüller map. Lester, who is a former editor for The Atlantic, tells the improbable story of how the Waldseemüller map forever changed the way we see the world.

As a Peace Corps Volunteer Toby Lesterlester-toby taught English in the mountain town of Manakhah, about three hours from Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, and about 7,500 feet above sea level. He taught both boys and girls (the latter dressed in black from head to toe, and surrounded by a buffer zone of empty desks) from first grade through high school, in conditions, he says, that were less than ideal.

The first class I taught had 128 students in it (but only about 30 desks). None of the students had ever studied English before. Pandemonium reigned, and I was quickly reduced to yelling “Shut up!” helplessly at the room — only to have the entire class yell those very words back at me in perfect, ear-splitting unison. Rote learning at its finest!

He learned Arabic during his service which allowed him to go on to work for the United Nations in Jerusalem and the West Bank after the Peace Corps, and later he did a stint at Peace Corps HQ in Washington as a country desk assistant and then country desk officer from 1990 to 1992. During that time he set up the Peace Corps programs in eastern and central Europe, and the former Soviet Union.

Today Toby lives in the Boston area with his wife and three daughters. He is an invited research scholar at Brown University’s John Carter Brown Library, and is currently at work on his next book, Leonardo’s Ghost, which will be published by Free Press in November 2011.

To read more about Toby and his writings visit his website at www.TobyLester.com

To order The Fourth Part of the World from Amazon, click on the book cover or the bold book title — and Peace Corps Worldwide, an Amazon Associate, will receive a small remittance that helps support these awards.

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