An elegantly written, absorbing portrait of a visionary man and his age.

The story of Christopher Columbus’ illegitimate son who became a humanist and scholar in the age of Renaissance and Reformation.

In 1502, 13-year-old Hernando Colón (1488-1539) accompanied his father on his last trans-Atlantic voyage, a disastrous expedition marked by mutiny, betrayal, storms, and starvation. Columbus returned to Spain a broken man, though no less a hero in his son’s eyes. Wilson-Lee (English/Sidney Sussex Coll., Cambridge; Shakespeare in Swahililand: Adventures with the Ever-Living Poet, 2016), drawing on rich historical and archival sources—including Hernando’s writings—creates a thrilling narrative of the perils of 16th-century exploration, where the atmosphere onboard ship was rife with panic, paranoia, and rebellion; giant lizards crawled the shore; sharks circled menacingly in the waters; and sweltering, mosquito-infested islands were inhabited by hostile tribes. The author’s focus, though, is not on Columbus but rather on Hernando, who became obsessed with two missions: to burnish his father’s reputation and to amass a vast, comprehensive library of printed matter: books, images, pamphlets, and all manner of ephemera. For Hernando, his father’s quest of circumnavigating the Earth was akin to “enclosing its knowledge in one library” and thereby gaining power and control over the unknown. Traveling extensively, he acquired thousands of books: 1,674 from Venice; 4,200 from a trip to northern Europe, and, eventually, 3,204 printed images, the largest collection in the world. His library swelled to over 15,000 volumes, making it the largest private collection in Europe. But even more astonishing than the sheer number of items was Hernando’s intricate system of ordering. From an early 20-page handwritten index, an alphabetical key to the people, things, and concepts in Suetonius’ Lives of the Twelve Caesars, Hernando developed several encyclopedias and inventories as well as a card catalog that enabled readers “to digest many volumes at a sitting, sorting relevant material from irrelevant.” As Wilson-Lee aptly notes, with “profound intuition” about the potential of burgeoning printed information, Hernando created, in effect, the first “search engine.”

An elegantly written, absorbing portrait of a visionary man and his age.

Pub Date: March 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-982111-39-7

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2019


The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006



Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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