on June 2, 2005
Martin Dugard knows how to write well. This is a gift not all historians have. The notes section is helpfull to readers who are interested in further study. Dugard has traveled to the obscure regions he descibes. I only gave it four stars because I would have loved to see pictures of the sites he descibes (although I am aware that would have raised the cost). I knew some facts about Columbus. His religious zeal. His son's first hand account. I have seen Ridley Scott's "1492" (which I enjoyed). However I did not know anything about this "Fourth Expedition". I have read Manchester's account of Magellan, which I found very interesting (and I intend to read Bergreen's Bio of Magellan next) however this tale is simply amazing. The title says it all. Amazing tales of storm and divine retribution (I won't give it away). Such was the strain of the mission that heroes became conspirators (these were no "Conquistadors"..for that, see Gov. Ovando). I will always remember the name of Diego Mendez (somebody I had never heard of until now). The fate of the convoy of Bobadilla is a tale you have to read to believe. I am going to hunt down Dugard's book "Into Africa" and his work on Captain Cook. I cannot recommend this book more highly.
Wow. I learned so much from this book and enjoyed every page of it. If I were in the movie business, I'm be optioning the rights on this puppy for a movie with Harrison Ford as Columbus in a heartbeat.
Yes, so we all know the general outline of the 1492 story. And we know some vague details that Columbus never found the western route to the orient. But Dugard brings this to life and puts in fascinating details about life at sea, the struggles Columbus and the crew faced, and just what really did happen to bring an end to Columbus' great career.
Dugard's writing style is fantastic as is his approach. He doesn't try to mis-apply 20th (or 21st) century morality onto Columbus' actions, he's good at interpreting Columbus behavior in the right temporal light. He doesn't seek to justify or crucify Columbus, just to tell a great adventure story. The best fiction writers would have a hard time beating the twists of fate, politics, action, and tension of this real life drama.
I also found this book especially interesting having recently read James Reston's excellent "Dogs of God." Dogs of God sets the stage very nicely to better understand Spain's politcal and religious climate at the time as well as the events leading up to Columbus' first voyage.
Having read this, I'm anxious to read some of Dugard's other writing, possibly his "Surviving the Toughest Race on Earth" next.
on September 10, 2006
Martin Dugard's riveting account of Christopher Columbus's last voyage in the New World is not without its flaws. Though the book is very compelling and a great read it suffers a bit from a jumping narrative in the first section to a lack of citations regarding sources throughout.
The second part of the work, from the beginning of Columbus's fourth voyage to the end of the book, is great. It is a highly engrossing read with short chapters that practically drag the reader from chapter to chapter just to see what happens next. However, the first section of the book is not like this at all. Though the chapters are of similar length the opening meanders through the events that led up to Columbus's fourth voyage. I found myself somewhat confused by the large cast of characters both important and not. Though Dugard does provide some interesting overviews of Columbus's nature and his relationship with Queen Isabella of Spain.
The worst shortcoming of the book though is its lack of citations. Often I found myself asking "Where did he dig that up?" Unfortunately, Dugard only provides a selected bibliography, while extensive; it does not point the reader to a direct source for some of his more interesting comments and sentences. While historians I'm sure would rip Dugard a new one for this lapse I can forgive as the general subject matter and crisp narrative make for a very good read.
This book is divided into two parts, the first deals with Columbus, his time spent getting some one (anyone) to back him finacially on a hairbrain scheme to get to China/India by sailing West, and his first three voyages and their results. The second deals with the Fourth Voyage (which he calls his "High Voyage) it's triumph(s), tragedies and their aftermath.
But what makes this book worth reading is what it really deals with, and that when a man's dreams come true they are not always what he expected nor what he wanted in the first place (or thought he did). Columbus wanted to sail west, discover a way to the Orient, make himself a fortune, be showered with lands medals and titles and leave a great legacy for his children and posterity.
Because of his political naivete, what he got was short term acclaim, then humiliation and banishment, the smugness and pettiness of syncophants and courtiers, privation and deprivation, and lastly he almost lost credit for discovering the "New World" to a man (Amerigo Vespucci) who might never have actually commanded a ship of discovery. Keep in mind that the two continents are called America not Columbia (or Colonia, or Colomboia).
Dugard does a marvellous job of bringing out the personalities of all the people involved, from Ferdinand (miser and ingrate) and Isabella (friend and admirer), to his schizophrenic crews (who could never make up their minds on whose side they were on), the indigenous people (some who fought him and others that saved him from starvation); to the man himself who thought that he was protected by God, and never lost his belief in the miraculous help of prayer.
The Last Voyage of Columbus is an eye-opener. Remember what you learned in school? "Columbus sailed the ocean blue.... the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria... 1492... it wasn't India..." etcetera. These are the things we learned in school. What we DIDN"T learn were the trials and tribulations Columbus, his brother, and his sons went through. And I DO mean "tribulations," as in "1. Great affliction, trial, or distress; suffering. 2. An experience that tests one's endurance, patience, or faith" (thank you thefreedictionary).
Multiple, life-threatening mutinies. Imprisonment, with chains. Loss of all titles and properties. Shipwrecked for a year. And yet Columbus bounced back after each calamity.
Martin Dugard briefly reviews the life of Columbus, the Spanish politics of the time, and his first three voyages, along with voyages to the New World of his competitors. The fourth voyage begins with Columbus determined to find the missing passage to India. Of course, he doesn't find it, and he loses all four ships, and a quarter of his crew. This is the latter half of this book.
Dugard writes well, and I felt engaged throughout. Columbus WAS larger, and more influential, that I had expected. I realize he wasn't a saint (as if there were ANY during that period of human history), but he certainly wasn't the worst of the New World explorers.
This is a great book for seventh graders and above.
I've read Martin Dugard before. His "Into Africa" traces Henry Morgan Stanley's search for British Explorer David Livingstone deep in the African jungle. "Farther Than Any Man" follows the career of Explorer James Cook. He wrote "The Murder of King Tut" with perennial fiction bestselling author James Patterson. While "Tut" is a bit of a mess and misses whatever target at which it's aiming, "Into Africa" is a thrilling ride, that's exhilarating to read and fulfilling to finish. "Farther Than Any Man" is somewhere in between...both enlightening and a little hard to follow at times. "The Last Voyage of Columbus" is both a historical survey, and at times a detailed narrative. It's not as strong as "Into Africa", and yet I'm finding it more lasting than the Cook bio.
The book outlines Columbus' first three expeditions to the New World, and about half way through delves deeply into his last journey. Columbus' final journey, in the very early 1500s, is successful with the benefit of historical hindsight. Columbus cruises the Central America isthumus and the northern peak of the South American continent. Columbus is still seeking his western water-based route to India, and as Dugard points out, comes tantilizingly close - less than 100 miles from the Pacific as he makes landfall on modern-day Panama. Columbus finds gold, but he's never able to fully bask in his ultimate validation of finding the New World. His expedition of about 150 men barely survives hurricanes, horrific wind storms, angry natives, a mutinous crew, and aggressively jealous Spaniards doing all they can to discredit the great captain.
Columbus comes across as a bit of a sad old man. He's clearly past his prime having failed at leading the Spanish colony at Santo Domingo in Hispanola (modern day Dominican Republic). Dugard portrays King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella's final approval of a fourth journey as a way to get rid of, and appease, the annoying and persistent explorer.
I'd rank this book three stars without a second thought if it weren't for the fact that I read it very quickly and, a few days after I've put it down, have found myself thinking about Columbus' horrid hardships, fierce loyalties he was able to instill, and polarizing effect he had on two different continents. Both of these indicate that the book was probably more than "good" at only 3 starts. If there was a "half" rating, I'd go with 3 and a half, but instead I'll just have to give Dugard and Columbus the benefit of the doubt.
Dugard avoided innumerable potential tangents to give us the benefit of his research into this last voyage.
I learned that info and mis-info about CC is not just a modern phenomenon. CC had a lot of enemies, and Dugard outlines a few, who benefited from having chaos surround his name. Dugard gives us facts.
You can certainly conclude that CC's skills as a mariner are unparralled for his time. His land administration skills, seemingly leave a lot be be desired, but his peers failed as well.
I lost count, but after the battles with native people, low supplies and the civil war of his crew, he still had 100 of the orginal 140 crew alive. This in itself is a pretty heady accomplishment.
He must have been a total optimist in his expectation that help would arrive in Jamaica. I would have lost faith after not too many months, but he was right.
There are many heroes here who certainly deserve treatment of their own. One very intriguing character is Mendez. His stealth capture of the native king is amazing as his rowing to Santo Domingo, particularly in light of how badly the mutineers failed in an identical mission.
on June 1, 2006
Whereas the first half of this book is a summary of Columbus' prior three voyages and the Spanish political arena of those days, along with tales of other adventurous voyagers scouting the New World, the remaining half of the book plunges into an exciting examination of his fourth and final voyage.
There was an obvious animosity thread towards Columbus, possibly starting at the top with King Ferdinand and permeating downward throughout every walk of life, including the men he commanded.
Ultimately convincing the Royal Court of a fourth voyage to the New World for further exploration, this expedition was jarred by every imaginable misfortune one could envision.
Hurricanes, shipworms, shipwreck, ship-loss, castaway, mutiny, native hostilities, not to mention the living conditions these men endured.
Columbus has always been a debatable character and Dugard exercises equity to this courageous soul.
A thrilling and educational read.
on April 22, 2016
This narrative reads so well one would think it was a work of fiction. The author has travelled to the places he has written about, and it SHOWS. Rich, lavish descriptions abound detailing not only the primary voyage (and the 3 others as well), but Spanish politics, ship exploration, native peoples, colonization, shipboard life (and death...) as well. The central spotlight never strays from Columbus though--and rightfully so. The nuances of this man are incredible--his life, the age, and what he strove for are brilliantly reproduced. If you read ONE book about "The Admiral of the Ocean Sea"...make it THIS one.
I read a lot of historical accounts of seagoing journeys, but was not very excited about the subject matter when I picked this one up. How much more Columbus do we need?
But I must say Dugard has turned in a quick, fascinating account of the politics, intrigue, war, death, and discovery of Columbus last 10 years and in particular his last, somewhat disastrous journey of discovery. I found his writing style to be very effective for books of this kind, as it reads in a clean narrative fashion, with definable characters, story arcs, and resolutions. My only quibble is with the limited sourcing, and the woeful absence of maps or illustrations. But these are minor points in what is a very enjoyable, educational, and interesting tale.