Meltzer, a recent Jane Addams Book Award honoree who has made a specialty of social history for young people, presents the hero of 1492 as a persuasive visionary, a gifted navigator--and a disastrous administrator who was typical of his time in his callous exploitation of native people. Always scrupulous in giving readers a sense of his sources while distinguishing between the documented and the conjectured, Meltzer tells what's known of Columbus' rise from humble beginnings and his quest for backing from the Spanish crown (in the name of gold plus a Catholic mission to the heathen). Concerning the increasingly unsavory later voyages, Meltzer is unabashedly judgmental, calling the treatment of the natives genocide and even making a parallel with Hitler's Germany--a charge he substantiates with facts. In an admirably lucid opening that outlines the "profound changes[s]" of the period, he sets this sorry story in its early Renaissance context; in conclusion, he reiterates the concept that "prejudice blinds the eye" in explaining Columbus' lack of recognition until the 19th century, while crediting the Indians with being an important source of modern ideals of liberty and equality. A compelling, authoritative portrait. The many historical illustrations and maps are less well captioned and reproduced than those in the Levinson biography (above), but the more abundant and specific detail here--as well as Meltzer's unique blend of clarity, wisdom, and compassion--makes this the better of two fine books.