Over The Edge Of The World

by stephenpalmersf

Over The Edge Of The World: Magellan’s Terrifying Circumnavigation Of The Globe by Laurence Bergreen

I really enjoyed this. It’s a no-holds-barred account of the world’s first circumnavigation, written by an excellent author who clearly loves his material.

In the early 1500s Ferdinand Magellan, an arrogant, self-promoting Portuguese out of favour with his own monarch, managed to get himself made commander of a five ship expedition to find a westerly route to the Spice Islands – now known as the Moluccas – on behalf of the king of Spain. What followed is narrated by Bergreen with fantastic relish – a tale of mutiny, daring, violence, survival against the odds, the discovery of the true size of the planet, cloves, nutmeg and much, much more…

The book uses various testimonies, but, given that only 18 men made it back of the original 260, that in itself it quite a feat. But the main testimony is that of Italian Antonio Pigafetta, a Magellan loyalist who made it back to Seville despite the demise of his master. In the meantime, the author spares us nothing of the voyage’s horrors: scurvy, mutual incomprehension between indigenous Pacific peoples and Westerners, madness and fighting… it’s got the lot. The prose is excellent, the background well researched, and the book overall is very readable.

Highly recommended to those who like tales from the so-called Age of Discovery.