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9780143122104

Columbus: The Four Voyages, 1492-1504

Bergreen, Laurence

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From the author of the Magellan biography, Over the Edge of the World, a mesmerizing new account of the great explorer

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.

In rich detail Laurence Bergreen re-creates each of these adventures as well as the historical background of Columbus's celebrated, controversial career. Written from the participants' vivid perspectives, this breathtakingly dramatic account will be embraced by readers of Bergreen's previous biographies of Marco Polo and Magellan and by fans of Nathaniel Philbrick, Simon Winchester, and Tony Horwitz.

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He knew nothing of celestial navigation or of the existence of the Pacific Ocean. He was a self-promoting and ambitious entrepreneur. His maps were a hybrid of fantasy and delusion. When he did make land, he enslaved the populace he found, encouraged genocide, and polluted relations between peoples. He ended his career in near lunacy. But Columbus had one asset that made all the difference, an inborn sense of the sea, of wind and weather, and of selecting the optimal course to get from A to B. Laurence Bergreen's energetic and bracing book gives the whole Columbus and most importantly, the whole of his career, not just the highlight of 1492. Columbus undertook three more voyages between 1494 and 1504, each designed to demonstrate that he could sail to China within a matter of weeks and convert those he found there to Christianity. By their conclusion, Columbus was broken in body and spirit, a hero undone by the tragic flaw of pride. If the first voyage illustrates the rewards of exploration, this book shows how the subsequent voyages illustrate the costs - political, moral, and economic.

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A Look Inside Columbus: The Four Voyages
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Description: Engraving of Christopher Columbus offering his services to King John (João) II of Portugal before winning the backing of Spain.

Description: World map, c1489, of Henricus Martellus. A similar map is believed to have influenced Columbus’s ideas about his first voyage.

Description: Woodcut from 1493 of Native Americans fleeing in fear of Columbus as he sets foot on the Bahama island “Guanahani.”

Description: A 1493 woodcut accompanying Columbus’s “Letter on the First Voyage,” illustrating his arrival in the Indies.

Description: World map, 1500, of Juan de la Cosa, cartographer and navigator on Christopher Columbus's second voyage of 1493-94.

Description: The first page of Columbus’s 1492 manuscript The Book of Privileges.

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