Sorting through a list of the best non-fiction books for something informative and at the same time able to satisfy my thirst for adventure, exploration, and travel. My eyes fell on a most attractive title. How could I resist the allure of a phrase with “Edge of the world” and “Terrifying Circumnavigation” in it? I found myself picking up this book in a blink of an eye. I opened it, started reading and it was everything I expected to find.
Of course, by now, everyone should have heard of Ferdinand Magellan, the first man to Circumnavigate the world. Surely you came across the mention of him in some article, book, movie or what have you. Although, he didn’t quite complete the journey back to Spain and there were other men who actually made it back home and could safely claim to achieve the deed that Ferdinand himself couldn’t, none of them could deny the critical role that the Captain General had. Without him, the expedition would have been lost or abandoned halfway through or even earlier.
At the start, the reader is exposed to a considerable part of the book discusses the pursuit of Magellan for support to back his expedition to find the Spice Islands (in Indonesia). I, for one, enjoyed this part. Getting to know Ferdinand before he sets on the journey is pivotal for understanding his actions later on. He was ambitious, relentless and alone against a sea of people who resented, envied and used him for their own needs (I’m looking at you, King Charles). After succeeding at getting his backing, he starts assembling the crew and provisions for his Armada De Molucca. The fleet was composed of five ships when it departed from Spain: Trinidad, San Antonio, Concepción, Victoria, and Santiago. And a mixed crew of Spaniards and Portuguese.
In the second part, the author perfectly portrays the lives and hardships of the crew. Their sufferings and their fortunes were so vividly described one couldn’t help but feel a kinship with them. Magellan’s leadership was impressive when out at sea and traveling the strait and while extinguishing a mutiny that arose amongst his men, but he made a lot of false judgments when meeting with the indigenous people of the lands he visited. Ferdinand grew ever so arrogant and his growing fanaticism took him from someone who peacefully offered Christianity and Baptism to the natives he came across to forcibly subduing entire villages and in one instance, burning one to the ground for defying his conversions. It was such a behavior that brought about his demise and that of most of his men.
“Magellan’s thirst for glory, under cover of religious zeal, led him fatally astray.”
The last chapter revolves around the aftermath of Magellan’s defeat in the battle of Mactan. We get a view of the attempts of the mutineers to taint the reputation of Magellan, the arrival to the Spice Islands and the trip back home.
The author draws from various sources to weave this tale of hardship and adventures for us. Mainly through the chronicles of Pigafetta, the fleet’s annalist, and Magellan’s own Journal. He also does without biases and points us toward other achievements of other great men and civilizations, not necessarily from Europe.
It was a masterfully written book, and I can’t begin to imagine the extraordinary research and effort that went into writing it. Informative, gripping and emotional. This book is a must read for anyone looking for an adventure or an insight into the lives of sailors and indeed, Magellan himself.