Columbus: The Four Voyages by Laurence Bergreen

Book Reviews

School children throughout the United States learn about the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus. Historians now claim that Leif Ericson first reached North America hundreds of years before Columbus. What is the story of Columbus?

Laurence Bergreen in Columbus: The Four Voyages provides an in depth look at Columbus and his explorations of the New World. The Italian born Columbus grew up in Genoa, a port city of the Mediterranean Sea. He learned navigation and traveled on several sea voyages early in his life. He settled for a time in Portugal, then was a leader in maritime exploration. The exploits of Marco Polo fascinated Columbus, who dreamed of finding an opposite route to China and India and the accompanying acclaim. He sought funding for such a venture from the Portuguese king, but was refused. He then went to England and Spain looking for the necessary money. Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain agreed to his request.

With the sailing of Columbus to the West, Spain hoped to begin to build an empire. After thirty-three days at sea, Columbus and his crew found land in the Caribbean presumed to be San Salvador in the Bahamas. To his dying day, Columbus declared he had reached India, not an entire unknown continent and ocean between Europe and China. The explorer known as the "Admiral of the Ocean Sea" began to claim all of the land in the name of Spain. He expected to find gold and to bring Christianity to the native people.

On his first voyage, Columbus explored Cuba and the island of Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic). He established a colony on Hispaniola before returning to Spain. Columbus reported on his adventures to the Spanish monarchs and then sailed back to the Indies. During his second trip, Columbus further explored the islands in the Caribbean expecting to locate China and India at any time. He worked with some success to build relations with the natives, but also used them as slaves and to collect money as a tribute to Spain. He continued to establish colonies as the start of the Spanish Empire.

Columbus went on to make two more journeys to the Americas. He explored the tip of South America and also traveled as far north as Central America. He never reached North America, but became intrigued with the Mayans and their advanced learning. Columbus had an autocratic manner and as governor of the Indies faced opposition. Other protested his leadership and tried to undermine his power. One person even confiscated his gold!

At one point, Columbus returned to Spain to protest the treatment of others. The Spanish monarchs restored his wealth and credibility. In returning to Spain for the final time, Columbus lost his ships to rot, and he became stranded on Jamaica for a year before rescue for him and his crew. He died in 1506 after years of courage in exploring new territory and establishing the Spanish Empire in the New World.

This is a good biography about Christopher Columbus. I knew that he “discovered” America, but not that he had made four journeys across the Atlantic Ocean. He had courage and fortitude for daring to cross the ocean, but his harsh demeanor with those around him led to problems. However, his exploits cannot be dismissed as he made possible the settlement of the New World and for the rise of America.

About the Author

Judy Klamm is a reference librarian in Central Reference. She has written book reviews for Library Journal and various Presbyterian publications.

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