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Over the Edge of the World: Magellan's Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe (P.S.) Paperback – 2004
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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 the Audio Cassette edition.
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 the Audio Cassette edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
Many of the men brought back to life in Bergreens book are worthy of books just on their own stories.
The desperation and solitude, cut off for months at a time without seeing another single human being is enough to make the most dedicated introverts among us cringe. The men on Magellan's armada had no idea what they would come across. Boiling water at the equator? Magnetic islands that could pull nails from the ships if they got too close?
If you have a curiosity of how soft the comforts of our modern society has made us, look no further than this book. What these men endured and sacrificed for, the things that you can easily find on the grocery store shelves is mind boggling.
The book is not without shortcomings though. The whole voyage is based on the premise that spice was valuable to Europeans, but there is little background presented as why that was so. This stands in stark contrast to the details presented early on about Magellan's personal background. Also, the lack of decent maps, particularly of Tierra del Fuego is bewildering. There are episodes of ships sailing to and fro in the strait that, after reading several times, I'm convinced must be mistaken. A decent map would have helped to clear up this confusion.
All in all though, an exceptional story told exceptionally well.
Sailing west from Spain, Magellan would cover 60,000 miles of ocean, find and transit the Straight of Magellan, cross the unexplored Pacific Ocean and pass through the equator 4 times, twice in the eastern and twice in the western hemispheres. Only 30 years after Columbus’ voyage to the New World, Magellan’s expedition would travel 15 times farther than Columbus’ journey. In the process Magellan’s initial 260 men and 5 ships would be reduced to 1 ship and 18 men, a 93% attrition rate in terms of personnel. Magellan himself would be killed in the Philippines.
Based on actual ship logs, diaries and detailed journals, many translated into English for the first time, Laurence Bergreen has detailed the amazing drama of this nautical triumph. Shipwrecks, mutiny, scurvy, cannibals, starvation and warfare were almost continuous events as this Spanish fleet sought an alternate approach to the Far East’s Spice Islands. It is almost impossible to believe that clove, nutmeg and cinnamon, spices so common in today’s grocery stores, could generate undertaking such risk and cost so much in blood and treasure.
Well written and researched the author brings to life the complex and cutthroat competition between Spain and Portugal that determined which country would control this powerful and unbelievably profitable commerce during the initial phase of the Age of Discovery.
Few of us know much more than that about Ferdinand, but the author here does a very good job telling the rest of the story. This is a tale of tangled command and mutiny, of extreme hardship and perseverance, of hubris and revenge, of curiosity and discovery, all facets of the story lines long forgotten but brought back with clarity here. Curious about one of the first ventures meant to establish world trade between Europe and the East? This book is a good place to start.