Customer Reviews


371 Reviews
5 star:
 (247)
4 star:
 (95)
3 star:
 (24)
2 star:
 (1)
1 star:
 (4)
 
 
 
 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 

The most helpful favorable review
The most helpful critical review


72 of 72 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars True to life sea adventure
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...
Published on November 4, 2003 by G. Vieth

versus
115 of 133 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Frustratingly Uneven
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...
Published on December 31, 2003 by Jesse Steven Hargrave


‹ Previous | 1 238 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

72 of 72 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars True to life sea adventure, November 4, 2003
By 
G. Vieth (Wichita, KS USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
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.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


59 of 62 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Page-turning history, December 11, 2003
By A Customer
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!
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars detailed, vivid, interestingly digressive, November 28, 2003
Mention Magellan and most will tell you he's that guy that sailed around the world. There their knowledge ends, or such as it is, since as Bergreen reminds us in wonderful detail, it was some of Magellan's crew that actually sailed around the world while the majority of it, along with Magellan himself, actually only survived part of the trip.
Packed with historical detail supplemented by first person accounts and side stories that some will find of equal or surpassing interest and others might find too digressive, Bergreen gives us a satisfyingly full look at the man and the journey.
The focus for the first three-quarters of the book is of course on Magellan. His early life history is quickly covered, enough to inform us of his abilities and motivations without bogging the reader down in unnecessary detail or too much psychohistory ("rejected by his father at age six, young Magellan turned to the sea to prove . . . "). The details start to come in Magellan's early attempts to convince his native Portugal to sponsor a journey to the Spice Islands and accumulate even more fully once he takes his leave for Spain and the planning for the trip begins in earnest.
The trip itself is covered in sharp and vivid detail--the political in-fighting, the mutual antagonisms of class and country aboard ship, multiple mutiny attempts, successful and not-so-succesful contacts with natives, and of course the nautical travails themselves--deathly storms,a myriad of navigational obstacles and pursuing Portugese. Not to mention the fact that the entire trip was based on an idea that the world was much, much smaller than it in fact turned out to be.
Most of the trip is seen through the lens of Magellan, and while a clear fan of Magellan, Bergreen is also unafraid to criticize his many errors with regard to ship policy, to politics, to contact with the natives. Magellan comes across as a complex all-too human figure rather than an icon or simple villain. Brilliant at times and amazingly stupid at others, he never fails to hold our attention. Other important figures in the crew are offered similar respect with regard to the fullness of their portrayals.
Beside the journey's details, the reader is treated to digressions into royal relationships, international maneuvering, the importance of spices to sixteenth century economies, the running battle for economic and nautical supremacy between Spain and Portugal, and maybe most fascinating of all, a brief history of the Chinese Treasure Fleet. While some might think Bergreen goes into too much detail here, other might wish for more. I personally fell somewhere in between, able to live with less on the royal personages and wanting more on the spice trade itself (those who feel the same way could do worse than turn to Nathaniel's Nutmeg for more on the topic)as well as on the Treasure Fleet.
I thought at times Bergreen could have left the "European" perspective a bit more, giving us a more full glimpse at the journey from the other end of the spectrum. I also could have done with more frequent use of maps throughout the book to have a more immediate and visual sense of Magellan's progress (or lack thereof). While I felt the lack of both several times, these flaws were relatively minor and only detracted somewhat from the work as a whole. Money, lust, greed, politics, mutiny, pride, betrayal, tragic accidents, man versus nature, battles, shipwrecks, castaways, man versus man, heroism and cowardice, man versus himself. The book has it all, with the added luxury of being true. Well-recommended history.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


115 of 133 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Frustratingly Uneven, December 31, 2003
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 [...] yet no map that I'm aware of shows it running near Guam. Yes, as a U.S. possession, Guam maintains an idiosyncratic relationship to GMT. And, yes, Guam was Magellan's first landing after crossing the Pacific. But Bergreen should have provided greater context for his remark.
These and other examples of what I deem to be distracting lapses often brought me up short. But the book is obviously the product of prodigious research (in, for the most part, attractive places to do such research), and the faults I cite may not seem so for many readers. The power of the story and Bergreen's skill in telling it will carry most readers through to the end, just as it did for this reader.
But ... it definitely needs more maps.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Around The World In 3 Years And 60,000 Miles, October 28, 2003
By 
Bruce Loveitt (Ogdensburg, NY USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
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. After Magellan sailed, Manuel really got mad: he sent some thugs to harass Magellan's family and to vandalize the family home. For good measure, excrement was smeared on the Magellan escutcheon. Manuel also sent out his own expedition to try to catch up with, and stop, Magellan. I guess you could say the king was a sore loser. Anyway, this all takes place in the beginning of the story. Things get better after that. (For example, we learn that Charles I's mother was called Juana the Mad. One reason for this just could have been that for several years Juana kept the remains of her late husband, Philip the Handsome, next to her bed. She expected him to come back to life and wanted him in a convenient spot. After Philip's death Juana also insisted on only dressing in black and she refused to bathe.) The book is chock full of 16th century realpolitik, mutinies, torture, natural history, as well as information on spices and the erotic practices of various Pacific Islanders. We also get to read some interesting material about the 15th century Chinese Treasure Fleets. Mr. Bergreen is obviously a big Magellan fan, but he doesn't put the great navigator's faults below deck - Magellan could be overly strict, arrogant, and close-minded. As the voyage went on and he finally made it to the Pacific he seemed to forget that his primary mission was to find the Spice Islands and he got sidetracked into converting islanders to Christianity. If any groups resisted, Magellan would resort to hardball - in one case, burning down a village. His "bull in a china shop" tactics resulted in his death. Still, the author leaves you with no doubt that, on balance, Magellan was admirable. The book is incredibly far-ranging in scope and I've only skimmed the surface concerning what is between the covers - and we're supposed to keep these reviews relatively brief. In conclusion though, let me say if I were doing the advertising for the book I'd write, "If you read only one book about an explorer this year...make it this one!"
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


51 of 60 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars great account of one of the legendary journeys, October 17, 2003
Laurence Bergreen provides a deep look at Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan's sixteenth century quest that led to the first known navigation of the world. This journey is a pivotal point in how Europeans viewed the world as people realized that not only will one not fall off the globe, but that Europe is not the epicenter of the orb. Mr. Bergreen followed the ill-fated journey through what is now the Straits of Magellan at the tip of South America and uses satellite images to further enhance the trek. Of interest to historical buffs is the daily journal that encompasses known research from around the globe. This includes sailor Albo's log and the comments of scholar sailor Pigafetta. The author debunks several modern day myths such as Magellan's mission was not go around the world, but to find a water route to the Spice Islands; and that the voyage was not glorious but brutal and filled with tragedy and misfortunes including the Captain having died in the Philippines. Magellan never made it. The trek took three years with only one ship with eighteen survivors making it back to Spain.
This is a great account of one of the legendary journeys of history. Supplemented by maps, inserts, and first hand accounts, readers join on the harrowing trek that proved once and for all that the world is round. No one will feel over the edge with this great look at the "Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe" by Magellan and his crew.
Harriet Klausner
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An amazing, exciting and meticulously researched book., October 14, 2003
By 
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This book is a combination of exciting, fast-paced narrative and meticulous research that is hard to put down. Bergreen places the reader alongside Magellan as he seeks backing for his trip, and then on Magellan's flagship, the Trinidad, with the Captain General on his historic voyage. In the end, Magellan succeeded in changing mankind's fundamental understanding of the world, overcoming obstacles, adversaries and long-held views to do so.
Particularly absorbing are the book's insights into the strengths and flaws of the players involved. Magellan was clearly a masterful navigator, a man with a vision and the single-minded ambition to pursue it. When the Portuguese refused to back his venture and made a point of disdaining him, Magellan turned to their rivals, the Spanish, who agreed to support him -- but also somewhat unsubtly undermined his authority on the voyage. (The mystery of Portugal's refusal is made clear late in the book; it is an incredible piece of irony that resonates with current events.) As the voyage proceeds, facing hostile natural conditions, resentment among a crew with divided loyalties, and the unknown, Magellan emerges as a complex personality, a man with a sure hand in some matters but blind spots that prove increasingly costly.
The objective of the mission was ostensibly to bring home (to Spain) spices and, more specifically, cloves. Men died, nations clashed, ships were lost, and mankind's knowledge of the world was expanded to this end. And, ultimately, when the survivors of Magellan's fleet returned to port, their reception was a mix of skepticism, hostility, and amazement, filtered through a political lens of faltering monarchies and changing times. This is a well-told story that is fraught with current relevance.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Incredible Journey and an Excellent Book!, June 11, 2004
By 
RV (California, United States) - See all my reviews
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
I rarely give books a 5 star rating, but this one certainly deserves it. The book gives full account of Magellan's circumnavigation of the globe, in all its horrifying and glorious details. While it is clear that the writer is a staunch Magellan admirer, he does not hesitate to criticize Magellan's style of leadership, the Captain's over-inflated ego or the needless risks he took (one of which ultimately resulted in his death).
Reading this book, I found myself transported into 16th century Europe, an era full of intrigue, magic and of casual disregard for human life. The book was absolutely captivating and I was not able to put it down. From my perspective, the most interesting thing about the story is that while today Magellan is recognized as a hero and as one of the most important explorers of all time, in his day Magellan received no recognition and was the target of suspicion and hatred.
For the most part, Bergreen's writing style is fluid and easy to read, however at times it is a bit too flowery for my taste. The book also suffers from a shortage of illustrations and maps which could have been instructive. For example, an illustration of Magellan's ships, the weapons and armor of the era and current pictures of some of the main locations involved, would all have been nice. Nevertheless, I highly recommend this book for any fan of popular history books.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not an Advertisement for a Cruise Line!!, April 9, 2004
By 
David "dtstrange" (Pleasant Hill, CA United States) - See all my reviews
When I was in Junior High School, my History teacher told us that Magellan took some ships from Spain, found the straits that now bear his name and then was eaten by cannibals in the Philippines. That pretty much summed up my entire exposure to Magellan's journey until I read this fanatastic book. Begreen tells the tale in such a way that would put my Junior High School teacher to shame and I would say that this should be required reading in high schools throughout America. Not only does Bergreen write very well, but he puts the story of Magellan and his crew into the proper historical perspective by relaying what is going on in the world at the same time as this voyage. The disputes and distrust between the Spanish and the Portuguese, the influence of the Chinese and Arabs on Southeast Asia, the effects of the Inquisition on the crew, are all brought out to the forefront of this story and this allows the reader to fully understand who Magellan was, why he and the crew did the things they did and why the entire mission almost failed.
At the same time, Bergreen totally immerses the reader into every detail of life at sea in the 16th Century. I doubt anyone alive today could stand what those sailors had to survive, trapped aboard those leaking, rotting wooden ship, without proper food, healthcare, or even fresh water. Anyone taking a Caribbean Cruise should read this book first to fully appreciate that life at sea is not one All-You-Can-Eat Buffet and shuffleboard. Make sure your kids eat their fruits and vegetables, as scurvy is not a problem you want to have in your family!!!
I totally recommend this book. It's a quick, enjoyable read that puts the reader right onto the deck of a 16th Century caravel for one of the most courageous and daring voyages ever undertaken by man.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thrilling account of Magellan's voyage, July 15, 2009
This is a fast moving account of Ferdinand Magellan's search for the western route to the Spice Islands, his encounter with fate and the almost incomplete circumnavigation of the world by a ragtag group of survivors and unwillling passengers whom the crew of the sole surviving ship of the 4 which crossed the Pacific picked up along the way to find their way home. After years of sea-borne adventure without charts, a method of establishing longitude and replenishment of water and supplies on an as available basis, only 20 some of the original 260 crew and staff of the 5 ship armada completed the voyage and then only as scurvy bitten invalids adrift on an incapacitated storm decimated ship. Magellan himself, driven as he had to be to seek passage via a strait that he himself only believed to exist, was himself killed in the Phillipines when he intervened in native affairs unecessarily but because he thought himself invincible. The book is primarily based on a surviving journal kept by Magellan's scribe/historian who doubled as a student of exotic language, amateur anthopologist and sometimes "censor" of events of which he thought the Spanish king/sponsor of the voyage might not approve. The social environment in Spain and Portugal, the home base of the intrepid travellers, a splinter group of mutineers seeking to discredit the eventual survivors of the voyage who had returned rather than weather the new-found straits around Patagonia, and the perils of nature and hostile peoples are all told in a style that flows well and makes reference to other histroical events and circumstances. Well worth reading.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


‹ Previous | 1 238 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

Details

Over the Edge of the World: Magellan's Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe (P.S.)
Used & New from: $6.43
Add to wishlist See buying options
Search these reviews only
Send us feedback How can we make Amazon Customer Reviews better for you? Let us know here.