Monday, February 18, 2008

Over the Edge of The World.

Over the Edge of the World.HarperCollins Publishers.2003.Laurence Bergreen.410pages.Illustrations.Notes.Bibliography.

Subtitled "Magellan's Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe" this is a no holds barred account of Magellans historic voyage.
The author starts the book near the end of the adventure as the 18 survivors of the 260 odd sailors and the remaining ship of the five that set out limp into port.
What follows is an exhaustive,highly detailed account of the Armada de Molucca.

The first 66 pages sketch out the religious,political and scientific background leading up to the fleets dispatch led by Magellan,a Portuguese nobleman and navigator in the service of Spain and its monarch.
The subsequent chapters deal with the voyage itself and the last third of the book describes the fallout after Magellan's death and sums up the significance of what the voyage achieved in terms of history and science.

Bergreen draws on many sources such as diaries,pilot logs,survivors and eye witness accounts including that of Antonia Pigafetta,an Italian scholar, who was on the voyage to flesh out and personalise the hardships endured.
"Water seeping into the hold stank despite efforts to disinfect it with vinegar and animals such as cows and pigs added to the reek as did the slowly roting food supply and the sickening smell of salted fish wafting from the hold"(pg 104).
Apart from the day to day sailing, there are also interesting asides about scurvy,weapons and the tribes,customs and languages encountered.
Theres also a fairly grim piece on the punishments dealt out to mutinous crew members such as drawing and quartering.

Indeed,I have to give credit to the writer for including so much information in some 400 pages yet still keeping it gripping and readable.I also noted during reading that while Bergreen obviously is a fan of Magellan this is an even handed account and that he is critical of some of his appointments and decisions.
If I had a gripe about the book it is a minor one that other readers have also stated.As a landlubber a diagram or plan of the ships and weapons for example would have aided my understanding as would a couple of maps.I found myself looking for an atlas at times trying to locate places mentioned.A map showing the progress of the fleet would have been useful but that said its a minor quibble.

All in all a great read.I knew nothing about Magellan except his name before reading this tome.I'll use the comprehensive bibliography in the back of the book to find out more about the man and the voyage.Recommended.

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