cover image Columbus: The Four Voyages

Columbus: The Four Voyages

Laurence Bergreen. Viking, $35 (448p) ISBN 978-0-670-02301-1

Columbus’s first voyage to the New World was one of the formative events of human history. But who was Christopher Columbus? Renowned historian and biographer Bergreen (Marco Polo) seeks to illuminate the complex motivations and historical circumstances that shaped the explorer’s life, and the inquisitive, stubborn, and supremely self-assured nature that led him to sail to the end of the world and beyond. Focusing on the lesser-known events of Columbus’s three later voyages and his disastrous, near-genocidal rule in Hispaniola, Bergreen’s captivating narrative reveals a man obsessed to the point of delusion with acquiring gold and sending it back to Spain, perpetually unsure whether he should convert, enslave, or annihilate the natives he encountered, and dismissive of the continent he discovered, forever hoping to escape America and find a quick passage to the riches of China and India just beyond the next wave. His last voyage ended in a shipwreck, and Columbus died in 1503 disgraced, exhausted, and demoralized, although the toll of his voyages was surely felt more keenly by the oppressed Caribs and Taínos than by the admiral himself. While sensationalist and lacking in scholarly rigor, Bergreen’s biography makes good use of the firsthand accounts of Columbus’s contemporaries, rendering a dramatic story that will appeal to general readership. 7 maps. (Sept.)