elementary school, we all learned the story of how Columbus discovered the New World. We
were told how he used three small ships, the sun and stars, and a whole lot of faith to
cross the Atlantic Ocean. The purpose of the trip was to find a new route to the Orient
for the King and Queen of Spain. He didn’t find that route—and generally that’s where
the history lesson stops. The longer version of the story is Columbus made a total of
four trips to the New World. The Last Voyage of Columbus: Being the Epic Tale of the
Great Captain's Fourth Expedition, Including Accounts of Swordfight, Mutiny, Shipwreck,
Gold, War, Hurricane, and Discovery by Martin Dugard is the first book devoted to the
final trip (which was longer than the title of the book).
book like a novel and not a history text, Dugard starts the tale as Columbus is sitting
in a jail cell shortly after his third voyage. The reader is pulled along as the Admiral
of the Ocean Sea is released from jail and heads back to Spain, intent on reclaiming the
wealth and power that had been stripped from him. Columbus flounders for a time once
he’s back in Spain, his favor with the King and Queen being all but gone by that point.
After months of shameless begging, Columbus is finally given the money to take four ships
on an expedition to find the route to the gold and spices that had eluded all other
Dugard’s book is a historical thriller that some scholars
will refer to as ‘history lite.’ He focuses not so much on the dates and times that
things occurred as he does on the men who made the trip. He brings to life the iconic
figure of Columbus and fleshes out the other men on this voyage. It’s a large cast, and
almost none of them are known by today’s readers, so a bit of each chapter is spent
filling in the background needed to appreciate the characters. Sometimes that pulls the
plot back, but it’s something that can’t be avoided.
This book is full
of the things that make for a great novel. There’s the political intrigue of the royal
court of Spain, a spackling of lust or romance, and a large serving of the lust for
power—and that’s all before the voyage begins. After the ship's put to sea, the story
shifts to the harshness of a trans-ocean crossing, shipwrecks, Indian attacks, mutiny,
hurricanes, suicidal rescue attempts, the fortunate arrival of a lunar eclipse, and the
desperation of Columbus and his men to survive the trip back to Spain.
The Last Voyage of Columbus is action-packed and a great story to
read. It’s one of the best looks at the closing moments in the life of a daring
explorer. It shows Columbus as a man—a man who was driven by the human desires of wealth
and greatness. His flaws as a leader and a man are exposed and used to show his
greatness. Columbus was a miserable governor of the land he was given and a horrible
politician at the royal court. When on the high seas sailing towards the adventure of a
new land, though, he was a mastermind. His men were capable of anything when they were
at sea with him—and just as quick to turn on him when they had solid ground beneath
This is a book well worth reading—not only for its historical value
but for the sheer fun of reading about adventure on the high seas in a time when all men
had to rely on was their courage and their leader.