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Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A life of Christopher Columbus by Samuel Eliot Morison is a book which brings one of the most important people in history back to life. Perhaps Christopher Columbus would not like to be brought back to the life because the life he lived was one of unremitting failures, from his perspective. He didn’t complain much of the horrible physical strains and unending physical misery to himself personally and those near to him. What bothered him most was his failing to accomplish that which he sought to accomplish and the unending insults heaped upon him for failing to accomplish. He wanted to go to China, meet the Great Khan and bring back lots of gold.

Christopher born 1451 AD got off to a good start for a common wool weavers son. He spent some time at sea as an adolescent, went to Ireland and Iceland by 1479. He must have been very handsome and well spoken because, although lowborn he married into a rich Portuguese noble family. He then had a son and worked as a merchant in the family business. Unfortunately, his wife died and Columbus went to Lisbon Portugal to work in a map making business with his brother Bartolomeo. Where they conceived of the idea of sailing due west to get to the Far East.

Click for a larger map from Wikipedia. This map drawn two years before the great voyage is from his workshop an may have been drawn by the hand of Christopher himself.

The Wikipedia article about Christopher Columbus gives the basic outline of his life and has considerable number of links and other information but this book published in 1942 gives a much better feel of the man and his mission and much more feel for the triumphs and sorrows of the man. In some ways he seems like a very simple and kindly man but in other ways he is unquestionably a very cold and vicious one. For example, when first meeting the Taino Indians he treats them individually with utmost friendliness and respect but at the same time permits them to be treated with utmost brutally by men under his command. Although he claims to love the Taino half of them are dead by the time of his death in 1506 and are extinct a hundred years later.

His behavior problem seems to be latent with the human character. When a person sets his goal before himself and achieves some high rewards early on in life it seems to lock in his ambition for greater achievement. When this cycle is repeated and some success is achieved there is no limit to the suffering he will endure to reach further success. Personal suffering is endured stoically in the sturggle and the suffering of their personal friends and supporters is accepted as part of the grand struggle and the suffering of those outside of the personal support group is absolutely ignored. Check out the other significant doers of history and observe if this is true or not.

This is a long book and like many long books it is long. It is recommended that have a good map handy because the maps provided are inadequate. If reading it with a computer handy bring up Google Earth which will give you a much better feeling for the geography and plenty of fair weather photographs. However, all of these sources will fail to communicate the suffering which Columbus and his crew suffered. The suffering of the indiginous people is reduced to stastistical numbers. The book gets off to a racy start and plods a bit in the middle because of its necessary length but as it moves into the final chapters and you have grown to have more appreciation for the kind of dedicatated man Christopher Columbus was it gets fascinating. I don’t want to ruin the final exciting chapters by revealing what happened and why it happened but in the end he dies as does the cast of the many other famous characters.