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Columbus and the Quest for Jerusalem Hardcover – September 20, 2011
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Top Customer Reviews
That isn't all about the most famous discoverer that we will discover in Delaney's twentieth-century masterpiece. In this book we find an academic analysis of the explorer's origins, environment, his own religious ambitions, followed by the role of his passions in the preparation, and duration, of his voyages - and the scandals that stained his name afterwards.
All in all, this is a most enjoyable book. Though not completely consistent, it is well structured, with remarkably helpful notes at the back. It is rather deep in some parts, and might be difficult for one without much knowledge of that time and scenario, or one who begins reading from the middle of the book. And for those who do appreciate this academic victory, it must be noted that some of the conclusions drawn in the book, or their hypothesis, or a lack thereof, might not always appeal - but the information it adds is a treasure for today's historian. Columbus comes to life mare than half a millennium after his death in a new perspective of this hero's life.
Sure, he wanted to find a route to "the Indies." But to understand why Columbus is one of the premier explorers in history, one has to understand his religious faith, and how it was formed by the catastrophes and hopes of the 15th Century.
Columbus believed - he was hardly alone in this - that if he could find a new route to the East, he'd also find the gold that Marco Polo claimed to see in Asia two centuries earlier. The gold, then, would give Columbus the money to finance yet another crusade -50,000 soldiers might do the job - to seize Jerusalem from Muslims. A Jerusalem in Christian hands, so his thinking went, would set the stage for the Second Coming of the Messiah, the Last Days prophesied in the Bible.
Marco Polo had also reported that the Grand Khan of the Asians was much interested in Christianity. For Columbus, this meant the possible conversion of the Grand Khan and all his people to Christianity. Then, the quest to take Jerusalem could include a two-pronged attack: European soldiers on one flank, the Grand Khan's army on the other.
Author Carol Delaney, a professional anthropologist who has taught at both Stanford and Brown, has taken the religious motivations of Columbus and come up with a unique and well-written narrative with appeal to both academic and general readers.
She starts with the most well-known part of the Columbus story: That he found a financial sponsor in Queen Isabella who saw in him a chance to expand the Spanish Empire.
Columbus wasn't trying to prove the world was round. Educated people in Europe knew that, even if his illiterate deckhands did not. But Spain greatly needed another trade route to the East, now that Muslims had taken over the "silk road," and the pope had granted Portugal the right to develop a sea-going route around Africa.
Columbus eventually made four voyages to the New World, always believing that he had reached the East, that somehow he would find gold and the fabled city where the Grand Khan resided.
Ms. Delaney's highly-readable account brings to life a man of immense courage, talent, and persistence. For most modern readers, of course, his ultimate goal was nothing short of delusional, but the author asks us to see Columbus in the context of his times.
To understand Columbus, she argues, one has to understand the history of 15th century Europe and medieval Christianity. It has often been noted, that "the past is another country." Columbus certainly lived there.