Form and Content
Christopher Columbus, Mariner is a shortened and popularized version of Morison’s two-volume Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of Christopher Columbus, which received the Pulitzer Prize in biography for 1942. The two-volume edition contains extensive notes, which have been omitted for the shorter publication. Christopher Columbus, Mariner is organized chronologically into twenty-one chapters of narrative history in which Morison moves from Columbus’ efforts to gain financial support for his proposed exploration, through four transatlantic voyages, to his return home to die in 1506. Christopher Columbus, Mariner concludes with Morison’s personal translation of “Columbus’s Letter on His First Voyage.”
Columbus believed that the eastern route to the Indies, around Africa, was much more difficult than his proposed western route. Morison discusses at some length the sources for Columbus’ conclusions, which included scripture, the writings of Roger Bacon and the geographer Ptolemy of Alexandria, charts created by other sailors, and the speculations of Paolo Toscanelli, a Florentine physician and astronomer. These sources led him to major miscalculations of the circumference of the earth and the proportion of land to water on the earth’s surface. As they made the journey appear easier than it actually was, his miscalculations probably helped his case, and ten years of effort finally resulted in success in 1492....
(The entire section is 470 words.)