Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Reads for Fun: Lawrence Bergreen's "Over the Edge of the World"

This is the book I got when I was inspired a few weks ago by an event I related here on the Ticker, where a store clerk had no idea who Magellan was. Bergreen in a journalist rather than a historian, but aside from a few flubs such as using Lea as a source on the Inquisition, this is a pretty good account.

Among the interesting things I learned, or was reminded of:

Magellan's voyage started with five ships. It ended with one ship. One of the five was taken by mutineers, and returned to Spain even before the fleet reached the Pacific. Another ship had to be scuttled because they lost so many crew members to various tragedies (there were about 260 when they started; by the time the last ship reached Spain, there were only 18). Yet another ship went back towards American from Indonesia, hoping to reach a Spanish port in Central America.

The expedition lost a lot of crew to scurvy -- a bane of the high seas at the time, caused by a Vitamin C deficiency. Magellan and several upper-level crew were spared the disease, for reasons they didn't understand: They had their own store of quince preserves.

The actual first person to circumnavigate the globe was...Magellan's slave Enrique, who had  been captured somewhere near Indonesia. When he rode with Magellan, they were essentially taking him back home the long way.
Magellan was a real Type A personality -- the sort who would bull his way through problems. Often successfully, though it didn't work the last time, and cost him his life.

Bergreen writes well and has clearly done a lot of research, in spite of the reservation noted. Give it a whirl and find out that "Magellan" isn't just office furniture.

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