Top positive review
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The unsanitized version
on September 25, 2000
This is a book that attempts to set the record straight on Columbus the man and the chain of events set off by his voyage of discovery. Koning does not delight in debunking the myth, nor does he gloat in the exose'; rather the tone is one of moral despair over the actual facts. Essentially the Christian Spaniards slaughtered and enslaved as they plundered the New World. Convinced he had found the fabled way to Cathay ahead of the rival Portuguese, Columbus appears every bit the avaricious social climber of his era. Skilled and daring, he was also venal and petty. Koning's portrait is not a pretty one, but then we've had enough of those.
Koning takes the revered Samuel Eliot Morrison to task for his sanitized portrait of the Great Explorer. Most reprehensive, in Koning's view, is Morrison's utter disregard for the death and destruction left in Columbus's wake and to which he was a party. Seemingly, Morrison's brand of biographical myopia represents a particularly deadly brand of Western ideology at work, one that cleans up the official record on behalf of the powers that be.
Perhaps most praiseworthy in Koning's tratment are the succinct moral parallels he draws between the civilizing forces of Spain in the New World and their 20th century American counterparts in Vietnam, where additional tens of thousands were slaughtered resisting Western conquest. A book like this exposes unmistakably the self-serving mythology that surrounds so much of our official history. Such versions are not misleading by accident, instead they work to a purpose and there seems no better word for describing that purpose than ideological. They are distortions that preserve current institutions of power; namely, those political and economic arrangements that also happen to be products of Columbus's bloody wake. It's interesting to speculate the direction our polity would take were Koning's book, rather than the traditional sanitized versions, required reading in the nation's high schools. Be that as it may, don't expect to see Koning in a Columbus Day parade any time soon.