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Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of Christopher Columbus Paperback – October 12, 1991

4.4 out of 5 stars 47 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

''A splendid achievement and a lasting monument of American scholarship. The style is delightful and flowing, and the whole work is replete with beauty and humor . . . [A] supremely valuable contribution to the literature on Columbus.'' --New York Times --This text refers to the MP3 CD edition.

About the Author

Samuel Eliot Morison was Professor of History at Harvard University. His books won two Pulitzer Prizes.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 680 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; Reissue edition (October 12, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316584789
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316584784
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #529,743 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This was one of the most enjoyable biographies I've read. The most distinguishing thing about this book of course is the fact that Morison recreated the voyages before his writing the book. This recreation lends credibility to his writing. But more than that, it makes much of the book, particularly those parts at sea, seem as if the reader is experiencing the voyages through the person of Columbus. Not only the particulars of what he saw, but the smells of land breezes, the feel of the trade winds, the motion of the boat. Morison's obvious love of the sea and of sailing work very much in his favor. Another strength is the historical perspective carefully provided by Morison. Knowing what was going on with Catholic Spain during Columbus' life (the defeat of the Moors, the expulsion of the Jews, political intrigue and conflict involving France, England, Portugal, and others) helps to explain the motivations of Columbus and his contemporaries. I was a bit wary of a 60-year old book, Pulitzer or no Pulitzer, in light of the more recent reconsiderations of Columbus. Some people would have us believe that the voyage of 1492 was some sort of original sin inflicted upon the paradise that was the western hemisphere. But in his preface, Morison makes it clear that he is concerned with Columbus, the "man of action", and is leaving analyses of his motivations to others. And at any rate, Morison's sensibilities are very much in tune with those of the year 2000. He makes few apologies for Columbus and takes him to task where warranted, particularly for his treatment of the natives. One chapter, "Hell in Hispaniola", is almost exclusively devoted to this area.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
Samuel Eliot Morison's Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of Christopher Columbus won the Pulitzer Prize in 1942, and does not seem the least dated 55 years later. What sets Morison's biography apart from most is that Morison himself is a sailor, and he draws on his own knowledge of ships, currents, and men to bring Columbus to life. Morison (and, through him, his reader) is constantly amazed at how good Columbus was at dead reckoning in unknown waters, and what a superb handler of ships and men he was. However, this is not a hagiography, and Morison does not shy away from Columbus' lapses in judgment (to the end, he convinced himself that he had reached the Indies) and mistakes. Six years ago, of course, was the 500th anniversary of Columbus' initial voyage, and I remember a deluge of articles and books -- mostly attacking dead white European males -- being published to note the event. I suspect that Morison's biography was roundly attacked at that time. I would be interested to dig up those books and articles to see what they say. For me, however, regardless of the current fashions or trends of scholarship, Morison's biography remains a marvelous tale, stunningly told. I recommend this book highly!
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Format: Paperback
Morison wrote this fine book in honor of the 450'th anniversary of Columbus' discovery of America. I think Morison would be surprised at how people's perceptions of the event have changed in the decades since.
First off, let me say that the book is well worth reading. Morison was a man of the sea himself and he sailed in the same waters as Columbus. We see in the book how Columbus was a master seaman as well as being a great salesman, but on the other hand he was a poor geographer and even worse politician. The Portuguese were right in turning down his proposal for the Enterprise of the Indies, their geographers knew that Columbus was way off the mark regarding the distance from Europe to East Asia. In any event, they were making good progress down Africa and they felt it was just a matter of time until they found the bottom of the continent and the entrance to the Indian Ocean.

I would now like to address the change in fortune for Columbus's reputation.

(1) People now like to say that he didn't "discover" America. One reason is because there were already people (the American Indians) there, but that is simply world-games. Of course he "discovered" it, no one in Europe or Asia knew about it, and the Indians didn't know about Europe or Asia either. Secondly, the fact that Columbus wasn't necessarily the first to cross the Atlantic doesn't change anything. The Vikings who reached North America simply viewed it as another Arctic land and had no idea of the geographical relationship of this new continent to the rest of the world. In any event, they didn't exploit their discovery in the long run, only Columbus's voyage led to that.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If any of you would like to see the life of Columbus as it must have been will really like this book. I found that it is a book about his life and world, not just a biography. You start to get a feel for how different his world was and how much of history is made up by people because of our failure to see him as a navigator of life in "that" environment, not ours.
I was amazed to find that Columbus truly felt that he had a divine commission and duty to voyage as he did, and much of the negativity I have heard from him now seems to be unsubstantiated attacks, completely ignoring the facts involved.
I respect the man more now than I did, and I think that people might find that much of what we hear about early discovery and colonialism in the Americas has been distorted and the negative attributed to people who do not deserve it.
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