It was a spur of the moment choice to pick up The Last Voyage of Columbus as I strolled through the Milwaukee Public Library's Central branch one afternoon. I was awaiting the bus, looking for something interesting to read, when I spotted the book on the Librarian's Choice table.
I enjoy learning about world history, and I've not read much about Christopher Columbus, so I was intrigued by “the Last Voyage” in the title. The author's name, Martin Dugard, rang a bell as well. Then I remembered — Martin wrote some of my favorite coverage of the Tour de France this year, on his Active.com weblog.
I checked out the book, and am glad I did — it's an excellent job of historical storytelling and a tribute to the man who was Christopher Columbus. This was one of the rare non-fiction books I couldn't wait to read more of: reading a chapter at lunch-break or a few chapters before bed.
The story revolves around Columbus, of course, but provides significant insight into the times in which Columbus lived. Dugard did a fine job of providing a setting for Columbus' insane idea to sail westward as a way of reaching China and India.
But Columbus' first 3 voyages are not the main topic of this book, though they are recounted for perspective. The real meat of the story is about Columbus' 4th and final voyage from 1502-1504, in which he aimed to find a passage through the new world, as an alternate way to arrive in Asia.
The 4th voyage was indeed Columbus' toughest, as he and his fleet encountered many trials, problems and dangerous situations, including mutiny. Reading about the drive and dedication he had to his task was inspiring, especially in the face of the troubles he encountered along the way.
I was amazed me to read about the achievements Columbus had in his career as a discoverer. Not only “the New World” but South America and nearly discovering the Pacific Ocean — he focused on a location a mere 35 miles across the Isthmus of Panama from the Pacific ocean, at the current location of the Panama Canal.
Was Columbus perfect? By no means. He had his own flaws and made some bad decisions. What's interesting to me was how he dealt with the challenges presented to him on this voyage, how dedicated he was to discovery, and his skills as a sailor, captain and navigator.
If you're looking for a good historical storytelling and have interest in one of history's most interesting personalities, I recommend Martin Dugard's The Last Voyage of Columbus.