Morison had a lifelong interest in Columbus and his voyages. Himself an admiral, Morison determined to re-create Columbus’ journeys by sailing the same route and visiting the islands and mainland areas that Columbus described. He embarked on one voyage to the Windward and Leeward Islands in 19371938 and then organized the Harvard Columbus Expedition, which in 19391940 followed the route of Columbus’ third voyage. Morison traced Columbus’ land routes both by car and on foot. Having also done years of research in primary documents, Morison concluded the endeavor with the publication of Admiral of the Ocean Sea, from which Christopher Columbus, Mariner was derived.
While Morison did not specifically write for young people, the popularized version of his Columbus biography is of interest to teenage readers because of the author’s ability to capture in detail the essence of one of history’s most exciting marine adventures. Morison’s style is readable, his narrative selections captivating, and his knowledge of his subject daunting. His own naval background has allowed him to describe navigational techniques and instruments, the effects of weather conditions and sea routes, and the difficulties of a transatlantic crossing when the state of technology left most of the calculations to the expertise of the navigator.
Morison makes no apology for his belief that Columbus was probably the greatest mariner of all time—having the distinction of never losing a ship at sea—and that his discovery was the most spectacular in human history. He...
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Christopher Columbus, Mariner is a scholarly historical work by the United States’ most eminent naval historian. The book is appropriate for the young reader, however, because it is a complete rewrite of Admiral of the Ocean Sea with a view to reaching a broader public. The vocabulary should be understood by the teenage reader, and those interested in adventure will be fascinated by this re-creation of an exploration that involved considerably more risk and daring than twentieth century ventures into space. Columbus and his crew members did not know where they were going or how long it would take, and they could not maintain contact with home while they were at sea. Morison’s viewpoint is that of a sailor, and perhaps only another sailor can fully appreciate the accomplishments of this fifteenth century mariner.
While the thrust of this work does not lose value as a result of its publication date, its interpretation of the significance of Columbus’ voyages has been disputed by subsequent scholars. Morison’s emphasis throughout is on the greatness of the accomplishment of an explorer of the fifteenth century. He does not believe that “the claims of others to be the ‘real’ discoverers of America” in any way diminish Columbus’ achievements. He also concludes that Columbus’ “fame and reputation may be considered secure for all time.” While Morison’s interpretations of some events have been questioned, his scholarship, knowledge of navigational techniques, and contribution to the literature on Columbus have not been surpassed. Admiral of the Ocean Sea and the shorter Christopher Columbus, Mariner will remain valuable historical sources among biographies of Columbus.