Monday, November 01, 2010

52 Books in 52 Weeks: Book 41

Over the Edge of the World by Laurence Bergreen is a look at the life of Magellan and his circumnavigation of the globe. At a time when superstition and myths reigned, it is amazing that Magellan and his crew had the courage to embark on such a trip. 

I really enjoyed this look into history. Magellan set sail from Spain with an armada of five ships {being chased by the Portuguese who were angry that he had deserted their country}; he found a strait across South America and managed to traverse the uncharted Pacific Ocean. Unfortunately he was killed in the Philippines {due to his own arrogance} and only one of his original ships made it back to Spain {after 3 years at sea} with a fraction of the original crew. 

A few excerpts from the book:
Spices have played an essential economic role in civilizations since antiquity. Like oil today, the European quest for spices drove the world's economy and influenced global politics, and like oil today, spices became inextricably intwined with exploration, conquest, {and} imperialism.

Europeans knew little about the ocean beyond latitude 27N... It was believed that the waters south of this point teemed with monsters, that their storms made them too violent to navigate, and that inescapable fogs would envelop wayward ships.

Why did sailors put up with it all? Why did the ordinary seaman and trained officers abandon hearth and home to live amid these grim circumstances for years on end? Why did they endure starvation rations, the indignity and agony of the lash and the stocks, torment by vermin, thirst, sunstroke, and the lack of women? They went to sea for a variety of reasons, for glory and greed, for escape, out of habit, out of desperation, and through pure chance.

In the course of the voyage, Magellan had managed to outwit death many times. He overcame natural hazards ranging from storms to scurvy, and human hazards in the form of mutinies. In the end, the only peril he could not survive was the greatest one of all: himself.

They had seen a great deal, and although they failed to understand much of what they experienced, they had made records for others to study, enlarging the European knowledge of the world. They had circled the globe, only to demonstrate that the world was a larger place than previously imagined... Banished were phenomena such as mermaids, boiling water at the equator, and a magnetic island capable of pulling the nails from passing ships. All these discoveries came at the cost of over two hundred lives and extreme hardships. No other voyage was as prolonged or complicated as this one; no other voyage during the Age of Discovery would ever equal it for the ambition or daring.

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