Columbus: The Four Voyages [Laurence Bergreen]

Columbus: The Four Voyages - Laurence Bergreen

Like many others, I was unaware of Columbus's other voyages until reading this book. I wasn't really surprised that he'd made more than one voyage, I just wasn't really aware of them before this book.

I really enjoyed Laurence Bergreen's writing style and plan on reading some of his other books (Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu and Over the Edge of the World: Magellan's Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe, if anyone wants to know) but those are going to have to wait awhile. Too much history at once will burn me out.

This book paints a detailed, and sometimes horrifying, account of Columbus's voyages to the New World (although he always thought he was in Asia, just a little ways from the lands of the Great Khan). There are many things that Columbus believed to be true that we now know to be false, like him calling the Native Americans Indians since he thought he was in India or close to it at least. He believed Cuba to be part of the mainland, although is son thought otherwise. He was good at navigation, but didn't make a good governor at all.

There are a lot of things that I can say about this book, since I took notes over each chapter. I might go back later and type out my notes and thoughts as I read the book (with a spoiler tag, of course!) but for now I need a break from this book and all it's discoveries, betrayals and misunderstandings.

Notes about each chapter, may or may not have spoilers (likely they all do, even if just in a general way!)

Prologue: October 1492 - This provided a good general overview of Columbus's four voyages including general routes, what happened during each, and how long each voyage lasted. One thing I found very odd was the mention of the Great Khan, since I know Genghis is dead by this point. I'm bad at remembering dates for things, so the Mongol empire might still exist, but I'm not sure. Read Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World to learn about the Mongol empire overall and Genghis in depth. (I love that book and it's even related to this book!)

Part One: Discovery

Chapter 1: Thirty-Three Days - This chapter focuses on Columbus's exploration of the Caribbean area, he got a little sidetracked by the beauty of the area, but did meet some natives (taking a few aboard his ship with plans to give then to Ferdinand and Isabella. Some wanted to go, but most didn't.

Chapter 2: Son of Genoa - This chapter tells about the life of Columbus before he ended up in Spain. This explains why he saw the natives of the islands he visited as possible slaves, because in Genoa (were he was born) slaves were quite common (mostly female slaves). These slaves were from areas that were not Christian, so many Christians saw it as their right in enslave these people. Explains historical context that I was unaware of (the slaves, mostly) since this part of history isn't well known to me (Itlay post the fall of Rome at all for that matter)

Chapter 3: Shipwreck - Nothing much happened in this chapter, aside from the shipwreck. At the end of the chapter, the other two ships are preparing to go back to Spain.

Chapter 4: “The People from the Sky” - Focuses on the return of the two remaining ships and the lies Columbus told the King and Queen (e. g. that Cuba was the mainland and about the fort they built - F&I would see a castle, when it was really just wood)

Part Two: Conquest

Chapter 5: River of Blood - The fort didn't survive, no surprise there. It was ill-planned and foolish at best and doomed at the worst (clearly doomed, although this might be hindsight talking). I'm quite surprised that some of the natives that went to Spain are still alive (although not many lived). This voyage is much better equipped - many more men and quite a few more ships, since F&I believed Columbus's lies.

Chapter 6: Rebellion - He's not having luck finding gold and his men are getting annoyed. He's planning on making more forts, since the last one went so well!

Chapter 7: Among the Tainos - He’s still focused on gold, while the natives kill themselves via starvation (often burning their own food stores to keep themselves and the Christians from eating them). His men aren’t willing to grow their own food, which is foolish. What happens when the natives are sick of feeding you?

Interlude: The Columbian Exchange - (Took no notes)

Part Three: Decadence

Chapter 8: “A Great Roaring - He’s still taking natives hostage, but nothing really happened in this chapter aside from going to South America and him almost dying.

Chapter 9: Roldan's Revolt - Explains why America is named after Vespcci - he claimed to have gone there before Columbus and maps were made naming the new world after him before the lie was discovered. I’d always wondered how that happened! There are now other explorers in the new world and Columbus has rebels among his men and he refuses to do anything about it.

Chapter 10: “Send Me Back in Chains" - People have been making up stories about Columbus’s cruelty to the natives and his own men (some might not be stories, book never says). Someone goes to investigate and lies about the things he discovers, clear bias against Columbus which F&I notice when Columbus gets back to Spain.

Part Four: Recovery

Chapter 11: El Alto Viaje - Columbus is getting too old for this! He’s over 50, but has brought his 13 year old son with him on this last voyage. Mayan’s mentioned/met in this chapter

Chapter 12: Castaways in Paradise - Looks a little hopeless at this point, the ships have been/are being eaten by shipworms

Chapter 13: February 29, 1504 - I expected Columbus to die in the New World, but he lived to go back to Spain. He’d hoped for a new voyage, but Isabella died so it wasn’t going to happen - she was the one who believed in him.

Epilogue: Columbus Day - Mostly about other explorers n a general way after Columbus’s death