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Over the Edge of the World: Magellan's Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe Paperback – Deckle Edge, November 2, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Journalist Bergreen, who has penned biographies of James Agee, Louis Armstrong, Irving Berlin and Al Capone, superbly recreates Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan's obsessive 16th-century quest, an ill-fated journey that altered Europe's perception of the planet: "It was a dream as old as the imagination: a voyage to the ends of the earth.... Mariners feared they could literally sail over the edge of the world." In 2001, Bergreen traveled the South American strait that bears Magellan's name, and he adds to that firsthand knowledge satellite images of Magellan's route plus international archival research. His day-by-day account incorporates the testimony of sailors, Francisco Albo's pilot's log and the eyewitness accounts of Venetian scholar Antonio Pigafetta, who was on the journey. Magellan's mission for Spain was to find a water route to the fabled Spice Islands, and in 1519, the Armada de Molucca (five ships and some 260 sailors) sailed into the pages of history. Many misfortunes befell the expedition, including the brutal killing of Magellan in the Philippines. Three years later, one weather-beaten ship, "a vessel of desolation and anguish," returned to Spain with a skeleton crew of 18, yet "what a story those few survivors had to tell-a tale of mutiny, of orgies on distant shores, and of the exploration of the entire globe," providing proof that the world was round. Illuminating the Age of Discovery, Bergreen writes this powerful tale of adventure with a strong presence and rich detail. Maps, 16-page color photo insert.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Ferdinand Magellan's ship was the first to circumnavigate the globe. While the accomplishment is recognized as a historic milestone, less known are the details of that voyage around the world. Magellan spent years trying to win the favor of the king of Portugal, and failing that he swore loyalty to the Spanish crown. After finally receiving Spain's backing for a trip to the Spice Islands, the king imposed numerous stipulations that would affect Magellan's crew and his authority over them. Once his fleet finally embarked, he had to contend with violent storms, mutinous crewmembers, and hostile natives. Bergreen tells a well-rounded story of Magellan, not just that of the romanticized hero but also that of the explorer's darker side. He also puts the voyage into its historical context, going into detail about what was known of the world at the time (and what was still uncharted), the rivalry between Portugal and Spain, and the church's attempt to divide up the New World between them. Fascinating reading for history buffs, and a great story that rivals any seagoing adventure. Gavin Quinn
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 458 pages
  • Publisher: Perennial / HarperCollins; Reprint edition (November 2, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006093638X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060936389
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (445 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #18,469 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

82 of 84 people found the following review helpful By G. Vieth on November 4, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Historical achievement is, of course, about people. So no matter when it occurs, achievement is driven by technology, greed, politics, ambition, mistakes, courage, religion, culture, sexuality, and even diet. Good History is as much as about explaining the context of achievement, as it is about detailing facts. This is good History -- and it's a great read.
For most of us, the facts about Magellan have been boiled down to Spanish galleons, funny helmets, and the first circumnavigation of the globe. Bergreen recovers the context to tell a story of a religious man, driven by vision, ambition, and personal slight. Along the way he explains the strategic urgency of Magellan's quest and details the logistics of undertaking the voyage. He helps us understand why cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg were matters of national security to sixteenth century Europeans.
Bergreen leaves us with no doubt that Magellan was courageous. His Magellan is not evil, though the evils of the Age of Exploration are already evident in him and his men. As in other tellings, Magellan's death on the beach at Cebu is an obvious metaphor for the collision of East and West, but Bergreen leaves it to others to belabor the notion. He's much more interested in describing the local politics that set the scene for the tragedy.
With such rich detail and engaging writing, the story of Magellan comes to life as a vivid adventure and an enlightening history.
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66 of 70 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 11, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Does a history book have this much right to be a fun page-turner? Yes, and Laurence Bergreen exceeds to great story telling, marvelous adventure, creating a just plain enjoyable read. Taken either as history or read like a novel this is an amazingly detailed telling of three year voyage which ended in 1522 with only one ship and 18 survivors out of the original five ships and 260 who left Spain with this Portuguese Captain. Even the early chapters, which tell how a Portuguese ends up leading the Spanish fleet, is a marvelous story. But in the end, what stays with you is the shear terror, boredom, disease, and strange island customs all left for us to enjoy because of basically one man, Antonio Pigafetta who was taken on to chronicle the voyage and some how managed to survive mutiny, the voyage through the strait, the native peoples defense of their territories (which resulted in the death of Magellan himself), and in the end being cast aside for a more "official version". Bergreen could not have told his story without Pigafetta and Pigafetta could not have found a better writer to bring his story to a modern audience. I highly recommend this great read!
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Loveitt on October 28, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Why couldn't they have used books like this as history textbooks back when I was in high school? All I was taught back then was that Magellan's expedition was the first to circumnavigate the globe (even though he himself died along the way); that the voyage took 3 years; and that although Magellan was from Portugal, he sailed for Spain. Here's some of the good stuff they left out (but which Mr. Bergreen includes): Magellan tried to get King Manuel of Portugal to finance the expedition. Magellan didn't have any luck. (Not surprising, since the explorer already had "a history" with the king, and the king didn't like him.) What could have been the last straw for Magellan was when, after an audience with the king, Magellan tried to kiss the king's hand (as was customary). The king withdrew his hand and wouldn't allow Magellan to kiss it. Magellan finally decided to give Manuel the kiss-off, went to Charles I of Spain, and had better luck. Charles was quite interested in the potential profits from the spice trade. (He was broke after borrowing a wad of money from the Fugger family. The reason he borrowed the money? He had to pay a lot of bribes to the electors who were going to decide who the next Holy Roman Emperor was going to be. Charles wanted the position even though, as Voltaire later said, the Holy Roman Empire wasn't holy, wasn't Roman, and wasn't an empire.) Manuel of Portugal was quite upset with Magellan for offering his services to Spain, especially because he brought secret Portuguese navigational charts with him (which Mr. Bergreen explains would be equivalent to the theft of nuclear secrets during the Cold War). Manuel sent an envoy to Spain to try and talk Magellan out of the trip. When that didn't work, the envoy bad-mouthed Magellan to Charles I. That didn't work either.Read more ›
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120 of 142 people found the following review helpful By Jesse Steven Hargrave on December 31, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Despite its obvious merits as cited by other reviewers, I found this to be a frustratingly uneven book. Yes, it has the compelling flow of a good novel, yet that flow was too often broken by unexpected failures to properly explain or illustrate key points.
I was frequently distracted by the lack of good maps to supplement Bergreen's prose accounts of the Armada's route. Most saliently, the author or his editors have chosen to not include a map of the Strait of Maglellan itself. Instead there are some admittedly fascinating depictions of portions of the Strait and a NASA photograph from space that I found utterly indecipherable.
While Bergreen's long asides on peripheral topics often hit the mark -- such as his discussion of scurvy and its eventual decoding -- others, including some crucial to his account, fall substantially short. Despite the issue's importance, none of Bergreen's numerous attempts to explain the Pope's demarcation of Spanish and Portugese spheres of control (the Treaty of Tordesiillas) adequately clarify how it applied to the Spice Islands on the other side of the world and already explored by Portugal. Of course, this could possibly be the result of my own denseness; others may find his explication perfectly comprehensible. I did not.
Also in this category of incomplete clarification is the author's mention of the International Date Line and the fact of its non-existence in Magellan's day. He references this drawback twice and both times he is satisfied with saying that the Dateline now extends westward from Guam. Of all the facets he could emphasize, this seems an odd choice given that the Dateline does (and must) run for the most part North-South. The location of the Date Line is in fact a highly complex subject (see [...
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