Columbus: The Four Voyages

Columbus: The Four Voyages by Laurence Bergreen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Did you know that Columbus made 4 voyages to the ‘New World’ in total?

After blazing the trail for other Europeans to travel to the ‘New World’ after him, Columbus initiated the phenomenon known as the ‘Colombian Exchange’. This entailed the yet uninterrupted flow of flora, fauna, goods and sadly even diseases between Eurasia and the Americas. It is mentioned that such a influx of new goods being traded between two previously unknown peoples cannot again be replicated until we make contact with Extra Terrestrial Beings.

Columbus was inspired to go on his Voyages after reading the accounts of Marco Polo who had preceded him in adventure and awe. He had heard the tales of the magnificent empire of the Mongols through which Polo had traveled, and the immense riches that lay therein. He wanted to reach China this time by going the opposite way, and by sea. His arrival in the Americas and the obvious indications that he was not in China just led him to believe that he was on the outskirts, and that China (then known as Cathay) lay just beyond the horizon, forever a few days sailing away.

It is a tragedy to read about how timid and docile some of the native tribes were, they would do their utmost to offer food, water and assistance to Columbus and his men. An attitude that, like them, was eventually exploited and abused.

Eventually, we see Columbus’ authority decay as he faces rebellion from some of his own men, and competition from other explorers who have been given the authority to explore land in the ‘New World’, breaking the assurances given to him by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella that no such thing would happen. At one point, Columbus was even brought back to Spain in chains to answer for his crimes against the Sovereigns, however this state of affairs quickly subsided before he headed back to the Americas.

Ultimately, the lands weren’t new and he didn’t discover them for the world, he had discovered them for Eurasia, and there had been millions of people living there for many years before he arrived. It is indisputable that his ‘discovery’ of the Americas led to millions of deaths and untold amounts of misery and exploitation. Books like these are helpful because they allow us to see the wider and deeper picture rather than blindly decrying something as good or bad.

The book itself is very well written and extremely engaging, Laurence Bergreen does a fantastic job of keeping us hooked (though the topic barely needs the help) and the mystery as to the bullet found with Columbus’ remains many years after his burial is a mystery that leaves the reader hungry for more.

I recommend this book, and also plan to read other books by this author, most notably on Marco Polo and the first man to circumnavigate the Earth.

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