The Year is 1500. Christopher Columbus, stripped of his title Admiral of the Ocean Seas, waits in chains in a Caribbean prison built under his orders, looking out at the colony that he founded, nurtured, and ruled for eight years. Less than a decade after discovering the New World, he has fallen into disgrace, accused by the royal court of being a liar, a secret Jew, and a foreigner who sought to steal the riches of the New World for himself. The tall, freckled explorer with the aquiline nose, whose flaming red hair long ago turned gray, passes his days in prayer and rumination, trying to ignore the waterfront gallows that are all too visible from his cell. And he plots for one great escape, one last voyage to the ends of the earth, one final chance to prove himself. What follows is one of history's most epic-and forgotten-adventures. Columbus himself would later claim that his fourth voyage was his greatest. It was without doubt his most treacherous. Of the four ships he led into the unknown, none returned. Columbus would face the worst storms a European explorer had ever encountered. He would battle to survive amid mutiny, war, and a shipwreck that left him stranded on a desert isle for almost a year. On his tail were his enemies, sent from Europe to track him down. In front of him: the unknown. Martin Dugard's thrilling account of this final voyage brings Columbus to life as never before-adventurer, businessman, father, lover, tyrant, and hero.
"For a guy who's been dead five centuries," says Dugard, "Columbus was very much a physical presence as I wrote this book." The author's Columbus who engages in swashbuckling deeds of derring-do as he explores the Caribbean and Central America in his fourth and final voyage (1502 1504) is a guy's guy. Spurning views of Columbus as a harbinger of genocide, Dugard (Into Africa, etc.) senses virile, visionary boldness, a man "fuelled by focus and challenge." Unsullied by too much modern scholarship, this book is at heart a recasting of Washington Irving and Samuel Eliot Morison updated to appeal to readers of GQ and Sports Illustrated (for which Dugard has written). His is a sexy tale: Columbus flirts with the (much romanticized) queen Isabella; nautical mapmaking is "one of the world's sexiest new occupations." In a text that idolizes navigation skills, there are some geographical slipups (Syria isn't near the site of the Suez Canal), and petty-minded linguists will wonder about Dugard's translations ("La Huerta," for instance, is not "special garden"). Historians might puzzle over the claim that Granada was the "only vestige" of the Moorish invasion (Islam continued to be practiced widely in Spain until the early 16th century). But for those who enjoy exciting descriptions of shipwrecks, bloodshed, shark-infested waters and storms from hell, this may be beside the point. 2 maps.