Vivid narrative of the explorer’s fourth and most harrowing New World trip reveals a courageous, enigmatic man who weathered the perils of nature and the intrigue of contemporaries high and low.
Borrowing freely from previous works, Dugard (Farther Than Any Man: The Rise and Fall of Captain James Cook, 2001, etc.) weaves a compelling narrative set neatly against a colorful historical background. During his last voyage, the “Admiral of the Ocean Sea” survived attacks by primitives, several mutinies and a shipwreck that led to a yearlong sojourn in Jamaica. His intrepid nature during those ordeals hasn’t really received its due until now. Columbus was certainly no saint; an early effort to have him beatified by the Catholic Church was quickly scuttled by stories of his enslavement of many natives. But Dugard’s account reveals a man who was resourceful, persistent and possessed with an uncanny knack for making the right decisions at the right time. Columbus was also a consummate mariner, often navigating by sheer instinct and sensing the onset of storms long before anyone else. And he was a great leader of men: fair and generous with his crew, ruthlessly efficient when dealing with his numerous enemies. Columbus’s fame and fortune bred many rivals, covetous of his power in the New World. Within ten years of his claiming for Spain the island of Hispaniola (now Haiti and the Dominican Republic), he was thrown into prison there, his house and goods confiscated. As in any good story, heroes and villains abound. Columbus’s younger brother and indomitable partner Bartolome is a particularly noteworthy good guy; baddies include King Ferdinand himself, who quickly reneged on his promise to give Columbus rule over his New World discoveries. One caveat: the author’s focus on the harrowing coordinates of Columbus’s life means that Dugard never manages to unravel his complex personality.
Plenty to digest for the history-minded reader who enjoys a bracing story of courage and adventure on the uncharted high seas.