Two German journalists pick apart the explorer’s biography, paying particular attention to the ship he scuttled on his fourth and final voyage.
As Brinkbäumer and Höges point out, their volume is part of a series of projects, among them a television show and a documentary film, related to the still-submerged wreck off the Caribbean coast of Panama. If that ship is indeed the Vizcaína, it would be a stunning discovery, not just because it is one of Columbus’s ships—the authors remind us that the great sailor lost nine vessels—but because it would be the first caravel ever found. Little is known about the design and construction of these swift ships, which played such a significant role in the Age of Exploration. Brinkbäumer and Höges (who must have had an expense account to die for) visited just about every relevant site in the New and Old Worlds and interviewed just about everyone who has done research on Columbus. They present an engaging synthesis. Beginning with some details about the Vizcaína’s discovery, including the controversy about who saw it first, they then launch into what becomes the text’s substance: the story of Columbus and his four voyages, including careful examinations of the explorer’s behavior as well as that of his men. It is not until very near the end that the authors return to the Vizcaína to explain what happened to it 400 years ago and to explore the myriad political factors that keep it under water. The prose is sometimes breathless and urgent, especially at the openings of chapters. The volume will perhaps prove of most value as a primer in Columbian studies; readers who know only that in 1492 he sailed the ocean blue will here find the rest of the story.
A swift, informed and balanced account of Columbus, his times, his voyages.