Over the Edge of the World: Magellan's Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe by Laurence Bergreen
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
When you're old like me, you hear stories about these explorers (if ya know what I mean...wink wink), but usually it's a truncated version handed down to you from a school teacher back in the 1970s, who wasn't much more well-versed in the subject than yourself...
"In 1521, Mr. Magellan was the first man to sail around the world. This was at a time when the world was flat, so it was very tricky!"
Okay, my miseducation wasn't as bad as all that. However, it is nice to fill in the gaps of knowledge with seemingly well-researched books like Laurence Bergreen's Over the Edge of the World: Magellan's Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe.
A good amount of time is spent on Magellan's struggle just to get the backing to begin his endeavor. Maybe that might bore some people, especially since it's right up front. Getting to the actual voyage takes some time, but once you on the ship, Bergreen does a good job of making you feel like one of the crew members. Great descriptions abound of ship life, the terrible food, and general hardships endured by sailors of the period.
Beyond the hardships, there was also the great unknown. Legends and horrors imagined and intentionally invented spooked the bejesus out of people back in a time when a good part of the world was still unknown by Europeans. Just having the gonads to try this sort of caper is impressive, and this book gets you to understand the monumental importance of it all.
Using various sources, Bergreen is also able to get inside the minds of the men and that is what makes this a truly good read. It's quite rare to have so many accounts with which to draw upon for corroboration and insight for an event that happened 500 years ago. The author puts it to good use in explaining motives or at least expostulating with a fairly high level of certainty on what moved the minds of not only Magellan, but many of the important figures associated with this incredible event.
While not a perfect book, it is perfectly good and recommended for those interested in the subject and willing to slog through the minutia of history in order to glimpse scenes from an incredible and often misguided voyage.
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