A solid but seriously uninspired study of the explorer's life and times, by two professors of history at the Univ. of Minnesota. Deep research helps the Phillipses re-create the 15th century, right down to the types of ships available for trade or exploration and the geographical and anecdotal information by which Columbus sailed. Economics of the period, trade routes, the influence of religion, and the aggressive psychology created by the tantalizing riches of Asia and Africa are well detailed, along with the changes wrought by the discovery of the New World as the text carries forward to the establishment of trade and the post-Columbian world. As in many other quincentennial books, Columbus and his marriage are extricated from myth, but the authors' well-selected period descriptions of the explorer (``tall and imposing,'' ``ruddy,'' long face, great intelligence,'' ``strong limbs, the eyes lively,'' etc.) trail off into a far too lengthy inventory of paintings done of Columbus after his death. The tedious, wordy prose offers facts aplenty, then, but they exist in a kind of unfocused equality, and one moreover that too often states the obvious: ``[Americans] rightly assume that Columbus's first voyage was important to the foundation of their country.'' Myriad drawings, paintings, and woodcuts liven up the text a bit, but, for all its wads of information and mature historical perspective, this fails to break away from the quincentennial pack.