February 26, 2012

In 1492 Columbus Sailed the Ocean Blue... (Book Review)

Laurence Bergreen, author of Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu, has once again written an interesting account of a famous explorer. Columbus: The Four Voyages is full of a wealth of information about the ambitious Columbus. Bergreen neither praises Columbus for his bravery, nor denigrates him for his vicious treatment of Indians, but rather presents him as a person of his times, with a “medieval” mind. While he is never able to make Columbus likeable, he does manage to show him in a fairly favorable light.

Bergreen covers all of Columbus’s exploratory journeys in detail. There was the triumphant first voyage in 1492 (as every fifth-grader probably knows), which brought back proof that there were indeed western lands inhabited by strange people. But Columbus also made three other voyages back to the New World.

The second commenced just a few months after the first ended, and included a hunt for gold and the beginning of a festering rebellion in Hispaniola. The third started out triumphantly with a landing in Venezuela, but eventually reduced the vaunted Admiral of the Ocean Sea to an almost blind, arthritic prisoner as he was shipped back to Spain in chains.

The wily Columbus, however, talked his way into a fourth voyage in 1502, and even took his son along—hoping that the Columbus family would trace a path to glory and riches as the Polo family had done. While the journey may not have ended quite as Columbus intended, history has obviously proven the Columbus legacy enduring indeed.

One of the more interesting aspects of the book for me was how Bergreen humanized Columbus, showing him as a slightly pompous, but rather insecure man of his times. He emphasizes how common slavery was in Genoa, and how many good qualities Columbus had. I wouldn't say that I came away liking Columbus...but I do feel more positive about him than I did before reading this.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Should I recommend this to my grandma? Sure.

This review was originally written for Shelf Awareness for Readers, and I was compensated for it although it didn't run there. Post contains Amazon affiliate links.