Take Ten: Columbus

This past week, we celebrated Columbus Day. An odd holiday – other than using it as a vacation day (schools, government), a day to protest (Native Americans) or a day to honor Italians (well, Italians), it is pretty much discounted. Columbus the man is sometimes overshadowed by the ramifications of his “discovery.” If you haven’t thought about Christopher Columbus since grade school, learn more about his journeys and his personality through one of the following. It might open up avenues for your own exploration…


Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of Christopher Columbus – Samuel Eliot Morison

  • Biography written with the insight, energy, and authority that only someone who had himself sailed in Columbus’s path to the New World could muster. Morison undertook this expedition in a 147-foot schooner and a 47-foot ketch, the dimensions of these craft roughly matching those of Columbus’s Santa Maria and Niña. The result is this biography, detailing the voyages that, for better or worse, changed the world.

The Atlas of Columbus and the Great Discoveries – Kenneth Nebenzahl

  • Renowned map historian Nebenzahl (fellow, Royal Geographical Society) traces not only the discoveries, but also the progress of mapping itself in this awesome collection of reproductions, filmed directly from original manuscripts, woodcuts and engravings. Most of the 50 maps are double page spreads, many with section enlargements revealing the wealth of detail. (Annotation from Book News.)

Columbus: The Four Voyages – Laurence Bergreen

  • Christopher Columbus’s 1492 voyage across the Atlantic Ocean in search of a trading route to China, and his unexpected landfall in the Americas, is a watershed event in world history. Yet Columbus made three more voyages within the span of only a decade,each designed to demonstrate that he could sail to China within a matter of weeks and convert those he found there to Christianity. These later voyages were even more adventurous, violent, and ambiguous, but they revealed Columbus’s uncanny sense of the sea, his mingled brilliance and delusion, and his superb navigational skills. In all these exploits he almost never lost a sailor. By their conclusion, however, Columbus was broken in body and spirit. If the first voyage illustrates the rewards of exploration, the latter voyages illustrate the tragic costs, political, moral, and economic.

The Conquest of Paradise: Christopher Columbus and the Columbian Legacy – Kirkpatrick Sale

  • Sale’s attempt to separate the man from the legend. He returns to the original sources to take stock of the “historical Columbus” and then traces the growth of the “heroic Columbus.” (Annotation from Library Journal.)

The Last Voyage of Columbus: Being the Epic Tale of the Great Captain’s Fourth Expedition, Including Accounts of Swordfight, Mutiny, Shipwreck, Gold, War, Hurricane, and Discovery – Martin Dugard

  • An account of Columbus’s fourth and final voyage describes the aging captain’s determination to find a passage to the Orient, recounting how his efforts where challenged by shipwreck, mutiny, and political treachery.

The Log of Christopher Columbus – edited by Robert Henderson Fuson

  • Columbus’s journal entries, dating from August 1492 to March 1493, offer an account of his journey to the New World 500 years ago. Biographical, nautical and navigational information also is included in this commemorative volume. (Annotation from Publisher’s Weekly.)

The Race to the New World: Christopher Columbus, John Cabot, and a Lost History of Discovery – Douglas Hunter

  • Reveals the intertwined lives of Columbus and Cabot, and how their race to riches threatened Europe’s balance of power and ended in a way that no one had predicted.

Rivers of Gold: The Rise of the Spanish Empire, from Columbus to Magellan – Hugh Thomas

  • A history of Spain’s first thirty years in the Americas traces Columbus’s pioneering voyage through Magellan’s first circumnavigation of the earth.

Toward the Setting Sun: Columbus, Cabot, Vespucci, and the Race for America – David Boyle

  • Documents the rivalries and alliances between Christopher Columbus, Amerigo Vespucci, and John Cabot, in a revisionist view of the race to discover the New World that explores the role of commerce in their collaborative and competitive relationships.

The Voyage of the Vizcaina: The Mystery of Christopher Columbus’s Last Ship – Klaus Brinkbaumer

  • Documents an underwater expedition during which some journalists and amateur divers analyzed the oldest shipwreck ever found in the Western Hemisphere, a ship believed to be one used by Columbus on a voyage to the New World.


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