The Mysterious History of Columbus (Magill Book Reviews)
In the five hundred years since Columbus made his first voyage to America, many myths and legends have distorted actual events and have disguised the historical Columbus. In THE MYSTERIOUS HISTORY OF COLUMBUS, John Noble Wilford, science correspondent for THE NEW YORK TIMES and author of THE MAPMAKERS (1981), searches sixteenth century documents of the real Columbus. Wilford lays out the evidence concerning Columbus’s nationality, his physical appearance, the origin of his plan, the kind of ship he sailed, the men who sailed with him, the cause of his death and the site of his burial. Yet basic pieces of the puzzle, such as precise identification of the Bahamian island on which Columbus first landed, are missing, and much of Columbus’ story can no longer be told with certainty.
Wilford not only offers a biography of Columbus but also examines the transmutations of Columbus’ story over its long history. Criticized by contemporaries for ineptness as governor and for cruelty to the natives, Columbus lost to Amerigo Vespucci the honor of naming the new continents. Only with American independence did Columbus begin to earn a more heroic reputation as the great discoverer of the New World. Wilford shows how the American celebration of Columbus has turned sour in the late twentieth century as the admiral takes on the guilt of European crimes committed on American soil and yields the honor of discovery to the Native Americans he mistakenly called Indians....
(The entire section is 336 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of The Mysterious History of Columbus Summary. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
The Mysterious History of Columbus (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
The quincentenary celebrations commemorating the first voyage of Christopher Columbus to America have generated renewed interest in the man and his story. Who was this man who discovered America? Exactly what was he looking for? What role did others play in the discovery? What is Columbus’ place in history? Wilford seeks answers to questions such as these as he wades through evidence in search of the historical Columbus.
To unravel this mystery, Wilford relies on a variety of historical documents, including many reputedly written by Columbus himself. He quotes from the admiral’s diaries, from his letters, especially those written to the Spanish monarchs, and from his Libro de las profecías (1502, book of prophecies). Wilford also examines the evidence offered by four contemporaries of Columbus. Peter Martyr d’Anghiera was a learned Italian cleric living in Spain whose letters became the first history of the New World. Bartolomé de las Casas, an early colonist to the New World, was not only the first priest ordained in the Americas but also an early champion of the oppressed Native Americans. His Historia de las Indias (1527-1561, pb. 1875-1876; History of the Indies, 1971) preserves large portions of Columbus’ lost journals. Ferdinand Columbus, the explorer’s son, sought to protect and justify his father in a polemical biography. Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo was a New World settler whose Historia general y...
(The entire section is 1972 words.)