The best books about Christopher Columbus

2 authors have picked their favorite books about Christopher Columbus and why they recommend each book.

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The Worlds of Christopher Columbus

By William D. Phillips Jr., Carla Rahn Phillips,

Book cover of The Worlds of Christopher Columbus

This lively and accessible book contextualizes Columbus’s complex life and career within the multiple ‘worlds’– Genoa, Portugal, Spain, the Caribbean – that he inhabited and the intellectual and political developments that shaped him. Columbus was controversial in his own lifetime and remains so to the present day. Neither justifying nor condemning him for his role in bringing Europeans to the Americas, these two experienced historians lay to rest the myths and misinformation that have distorted our understanding of this larger-than-life historical figure. This book is always my starting point when I need to know something about Columbus. 

The Worlds of Christopher Columbus

By William D. Phillips Jr., Carla Rahn Phillips,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Worlds of Christopher Columbus as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When Columbus was born in the mid-fifteenth century, Europe was largely isolated from the rest of the Old World - Africa and Asia - and ignorant of the existence of the world of the Western Hemisphere. The voyages of Christopher Columbus opened a period of European exploration and empire building that breached the boundaries of those isolated worlds and changed the course of human history. This book describes the life and times of Christopher Columbus on the 500th aniversary of his first voyage across the Atlantic Ocean in 1492. Since ancient times, Europeans had dreamed of discovering new routes to…

Who am I?

Throughout my career as a historian I’ve been interested in the expansion of the Iberian world and its consequences for societies and cultures in Spain as well as Spanish America, especially Mexico. I knew that the Caribbean, the first site of European activity in the Americas, played an important role in that story, yet paradoxically it didn’t seem to receive much attention from historians, at least in the U.S. When I finally decided to focus my research on the period immediately following Columbus’s first voyages, I entered into a complex and dynamic world of danger, ambition, exploitation, and novelty. I hope to open that world to others in my book.


I wrote...

Life and Society in the Early Spanish Caribbean: The Greater Antilles, 1493-1550

By Ida Altman,

Book cover of Life and Society in the Early Spanish Caribbean: The Greater Antilles, 1493-1550

What is my book about?

Columbus’s voyages brought enormous demographic, economic, and social changes to the Caribbean. Europeans, Native Americans, and Africans came into extended contact there for the first time in world history. I examine their interactions and the transformation of the islands of the Greater Antilles (Hispaniola, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Jamaica), addressing such topics as disease and conflict, the establishment of the Iberian Catholic church and a system of government, and economic enterprises. As a result of the rapid developments of the first half of the sixteenth century, a highly unequal and coercive but dynamic society characterized by the extensive mixing of all ethnic and racial groups came into existence.

Book cover of The Memoirs of Christopher Columbus

A surreal picaresque, apparently narrated by the ghost of Columbus, who knows exactly how posterity has treated him and sets out to tell the ‘true’ story of his life and adventures. Written in a lively, vernacular style, full of jokes, arguments, boasts, anachronisms, score-settling, and shifts of tone and genre, it is a thoroughly enjoyable read.

This book tests the limits of the memoir, and shows that historical novels can be great fun, and don’t always have to respect their sources. 

The Memoirs of Christopher Columbus

By Stephen Marlowe,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Memoirs of Christopher Columbus as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Who am I?

I am the author of the Byzantine Trilogy (in 4 parts). These books depict the difficult beginning, decadent apogee, and sad end of the Byzantine empire. I think it is important to make historical fiction vivid, to immerse the reader in a distant time and place, with all its sights, smells, sounds, and tastes, as experienced by someone who was really there. I am also interested in what people believed, and why. For that reason, my historical novels are all first-person narratives, stories told by the people who lived through them. Here are some of the fictional memoirs that inspired me to start writing.


I wrote...

Mappamundi

By Christopher Harris,

Book cover of Mappamundi

What is my book about?

Thomas Deerham has survived the Hundred Years War and the Fall of Constantinople, but is trapped in Rome, serving the Pope. Trying to get back to England, he falls in with vagabond-poet François Villon, whose expertise in theft and trickery fails to save them from starvation. Desperate, they join forces with the aged mystic, Christian Rosenkreutz. Armed with a stolen map and esoteric knowledge culled from antique books, the three set off on a search for Paradise.

Through Thomas’s eyes, we see the decadence of Rome, the squalor of Paris, the confusion of war-torn England, the torments of thwarted desire, the folly of scholars, the miseries of a sea voyage, and the strangeness of an unsuspected new world. But, has he reached Paradise?

Book cover of The Imaginative Landscape of Christopher Columbus

This is a lapidary introduction to the stories and ideas that prompted Columbus to sail away from Europe into the Atlantic in search of a direct sea route to Asia—and that determined how he interpreted what he came across after making landfall in the Americas. In just 200 pages, Flint nimbly covers all sorts of material: Christian theories of cosmology and eschatology; medieval conceptions of geography; the travel stories of St. Brendan, Sinbad the Sailor, Sir John Mandeville, and Marco Polo; the books that Columbus read, and the notes he made in them to himself; and more. In doing so, she reanimates a fascinating landscape of the imagination.

The Imaginative Landscape of Christopher Columbus

By Valerie Irene Jane Flint,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Imaginative Landscape of Christopher Columbus as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Rather than focusing on the well-rehearsed facts of Columbus's achievements in the New World, Valerie Flint looks instead at his imaginative mental images, the powerful "fantasies" that gave energy to his endeavors in the Renaissance. With him on his voyages into the unknown, he carried medieval notions gleaned from a Mediterranean tradition of tall tales about the sea, from books he had read, and from the mappae-mundi, splendid schematic maps with fantastic inhabitants. After investigating these sources of Columbus's views, Flint explains how the content of his thinking influenced his reports on his discoveries. Finally, she argues that problems besetting…

Who am I?

I’m a writer and an editor with eclectic interests. I’ve published two books of popular history—Da Vinci's Ghost (2012), about Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, and The Fourth Part of the World (2009), about the map that gave America its name. I’ve also written extensively for national publications on such topics as the sociology of new religious movements, privacy protection in the Internet age, the Voynich manuscript, the revisionist study of the Qur’an, the revival of ancient Greek music, and alphabet reform in Azerbaijan. I’m presently a senior editor at the Harvard Business Review and a contributing editor at The Atlantic. From 1988-1990, I served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Yemen.


I wrote...

The Fourth Part of the World: An Astonishing Epic of Global Discovery, Imperial Ambition, and the Birth of America

By Toby Lester,

Book cover of The Fourth Part of the World: An Astonishing Epic of Global Discovery, Imperial Ambition, and the Birth of America

What is my book about?

For millennia Europeans believed that the world consisted of three parts: Europe, Africa, and Asia. Occasionally they wondered about what they called a "fourth part of the world," a land separated from the other three parts of the world by a vast expanse of ocean. It was a land of mystery and myth... until 1507, when Martin Waldseemüller and Matthias Ringmann, two obscure German humanists working in the mountains of eastern France, made it real with a map.

A year earlier, Columbus had died believing that he had sailed to Asia, but Waldseemüller and Ringmann, after reading about the Atlantic discoveries of Columbus’s contemporary Amerigo Vespucci, decided that Vespucci had reached the fabled fourth part of the world. To celebrate the achievement, Waldseemüller and Ringmann printed a huge wall map, for the first time showing the New World distinct from Asia, and in Vespucci’s honor they gave this New World a name: America. Only one copy of the map survives, discovered in 1901 in the library of a German castle, and in 2003 it was bought for the unprecedented sum of $10 million by the Library of Congress, where it is now on permanent public display.
The Fourth Part of the World tells the story of this map, which turns out to be a grand saga of geographical and intellectual discovery—one that sweeps across continents and centuries and is full of engrossing ideas, adventures, and surprises.

Pastwatch

By Orson Scott Card,

Book cover of Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus

This is one of the least-known books by science fiction writer Orson Scott Card, but it’s my favorite. In a dying future, scientists are sent back to the past to initially transcribe history and later to change it when they discover that possibility. Time travel books can either be an interesting intellectual exercise or a jumble of logical impossibilities. This is the former, but it is also a great historical description of the discovery of the New World including all of the wonders and atrocities. It confronts the disturbing roots of European and American slavery as well as the barbarism of native American cultures. It is a well-written, exciting, emotional experience full of fascinating personalities, high adventure, historical narratives, and serious questions about morality.

Pastwatch

By Orson Scott Card,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Pastwatch as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

After a scientific innovation allows researchers to open a window on the past, a young woman sends an individual onto a slightly different path in life, interference that has unexpected repercussions for the present and future.

Who am I?

While every single attempt at socialism in human history has failed, usually leading to the murder of millions of people, it is being revived by those who think they can “do it right this time.” I’ve been writing about American principles and American values for newspapers and magazines for years. The threat to the exceptional American experiment that has led so many people of all backgrounds to success and happiness, led me to write this novel. I hope that it is fun enough and interesting enough that many readers will enjoy it, and more importantly learn from it. And take action to preserve the values and principles of America that have uplifted and inspired so many for over two centuries.


I wrote...

Animal Lab

By Bob Zeidman,

Book cover of Animal Lab

What is my book about?

One day, the animals at a research lab wake up with the abilities of rational thought and communication. And the humans are gone. They realize they must organize into a society with rules, rights, and responsibilities. They heard about a farm in England where the animals created a socialist society that eventually failed. They are determined to succeed, so they create a democratic republic. But can they keep it?

Animal Lab is an allegorical novel by Bob Zeidman. It is a warning about the possible coming collapse of American society and along with it, American principles, values, and freedoms—torches that have lit the path for the advancement of the human condition for over two centuries and that must not be allowed to be extinguished.

Yiddish for Pirates

By Gary Barwin,

Book cover of Yiddish for Pirates

Gary Barwin had to make this list. He’s a Prospero of historical weirdness. I was torn between this book and his more recent novel Nothing the Same, Everything Haunted: The Ballad of Motl the Cowboy, which follows its titular character on a harrowing journey across Nazi-infested Europe to retrieve his shot-off-by-a-Dadaist testicles from a Swiss glacier. But Yiddish for Pirates wins the toss because it’s narrated by a parrot.

Aharon, a Yiddish-idiom-spouting 500-year-old ship’s parrot, traces the life of his Captain, Moishe, from a shtetl near Vilnius through Torquemada’s Inquisition and Columbus’ brutal conquest of the Caribbean to an eventual erratic career in piracy, with a couple of quests along the way. What makes Barwin’s work sing is the tragic humanity within the swirl of its jaw-dropping narrative ridiculousness.

Yiddish for Pirates

By Gary Barwin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Yiddish for Pirates as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Who am I?

I’m a writer in Toronto, Canada. My novel Call Me Stan is weird historical fiction. Probably not as weird as the books below, but still weird. Its initial inspiration was the stunning cognitive dissonance between composer Richard Wagner’s vile anti-Semitism and his fascination with the Buddha. If I’d stuck with just that idea, I might’ve ended up with a fairly conventional historical novel. But a second idea collided with it and gave it energy: the legend of the cursed immortal referred to as the Wandering Jew. That gave me a present-day narrator who could carry us through a vast sweep of history in a jarringly anachronistic way. Which was exactly weird enough for me. 


I wrote...

Call Me Stan: A Tragedy in Three Millennia

By K.R. Wilson,

Book cover of Call Me Stan: A Tragedy in Three Millennia

What is my book about?

When the Hittites fought the Egyptians at Qadesh, Stan was there. When King Priam's pregnant daughter fled the sack of Troy, Stan was there. When Jesus of Nazareth was beaten and crucified, Stan was there—one cross over. Stan doesn't die, and he doesn't know why. And now he's being investigated for a horrific crime.

As he tells his story, from his origins as an Anatolian sheep farmer to his custody in a Toronto police interview room, he brings a wry, anachronistic perspective to three thousand years of Eurasian history. Call Me Stan is a Biblical epic from the bleachers, a gender-fluid operatic love quadrangle, and a touching exploration of what it is to outlive everyone you love. Or almost everyone.

Great Issues in American History, Vol. I

By Richard Hofstadter, Clarence L. Ver Steeg,

Book cover of Great Issues in American History, Vol. I: From Settlement to Revolution, 1584-1776

There is no better way to understand American history than to read the sources out of which we understand the past and through which historians craft their narratives. This collection was published long ago and it only goes to 1981, but it provides an excellent selection of speeches, decisions, and reports that open a direct path to learning American history.

Great Issues in American History, Vol. I

By Richard Hofstadter, Clarence L. Ver Steeg,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Great Issues in American History, Vol. I as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This first volume of Great Issues in American History -- three volumes of documents that cover the history of America from its settlement to the present -- gives us a generous sampling from the major political controversies in the Colonial period. Included are such documents as Richard Hakluyt's "Discourse of Western Planting" (1584), "Letter from Christopher Columbus to the King and Queen of Spain" (undated, probably 1694), "The Third Virginia Charter" (1612), Thomas Paine's "Common Sense" (1776) and "The Declaration of independence" (July 4, 1776). Each has an explanatory headnote, and there are brief general introductions that set the selections…

Who am I?

Louis P. Masur is a cultural historian who has written on a range of topics in American history, from Abraham Lincoln to Bruce Springsteen, from the first World Series to a photograph that shocked the nation. An award-winning teacher, Masur lectures frequently on various topics in American history. His essays and reviews have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, and Slate. The Sum of Our Dreams emerged out a course he teaches on the American Dream, which, somehow, he still believes in.


I wrote...

The Sum of Our Dreams: A Concise History of America

By Louis P. Masur,

Book cover of The Sum of Our Dreams: A Concise History of America

What is my book about?

In The Sum of Our Dreams, Louis P. Masur offers a sweeping yet compact history of America from its beginnings to the current moment. For general readers seeking an accessible, single-volume account, one that challenges but does not overwhelm, and which distills and connects the major events and figures in the country's past in a single narrative, here is that book.

Evoking Barack Obama's belief that America remains the sum of its dreams, Masur locates the origin of those dreams of freedom, equality, and opportunity and traces their progress chronologically, illuminating the nation's struggle over time to articulate and fulfill their promise. Above all, however, Masur lets the story of America tell itself. Inspired by James Baldwin's observation that American history is longer, larger, more beautiful, and more terrible than anything anyone has ever said about it, he expands our notion of that history while identifying its individual threads. 

Book cover of The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books: Young Columbus and the Quest for a Universal Library

What do you do if your father has just discovered whole new continents? In the case of Hernando, son of Christopher Columbus, the answer was to conquer a new world of his own: the new universe of printed books. In this beautifully written and accessible study, Edward Wilson-Lee explores Hernando’s quixotic yet determined attempt to emulate the library of ancient Alexandria by creating a universal library of print. It does not end well.

The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books

By Edward Wilson-Lee,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WINNER OF THE 2019 PEN HESSELL-TILTMAN PRIZE

The fascinating history of Christopher Columbus's illegitimate son Hernando, guardian of his father's flame, courtier, bibliophile and catalogue supreme, whose travels took him to the heart of 16th-century Europe' Honor Clerk, Spectator, Books of the Year

This is the scarcely believable - and wholly true - story of Christopher Columbus' bastard son Hernando, who sought to equal and surpass his father's achievements by creating a universal library. His father sailed across the ocean to explore the known boundaries of the world for the glory of God, Spain and himself. His son Hernando sought…


Who am I?

I started academic life as a historian of the Protestant Reformation, and gradually shifted to the history of communication, in the process creating a major online resource documenting publications from all over the world in the first two centuries of printing, the Universal Short Title Catalogue. After several works on books, news, and information culture I teamed up with another St Andrews colleague, Arthur der Weduwen, to enjoy the pleasures of co-authorship: this book, a history of libraries and book collecting, is our fourth collaboration.


I wrote...

The Library: A Fragile History

By Andrew Pettegree, Arthur der Weduwen,

Book cover of The Library: A Fragile History

What is my book about?

The Library charts the rich and varied history of the library, from the famous collections of the ancient world to the embattled public resources we cherish today. This is not a story of easy progress through the centuries, nor a lament for libraries lost. Instead, we show that a repeating cycle of creation and dispersal, decay and reconstruction, turns out to be the historical norm as collections that represented the values and interests of one generation fail to speak to the one that follows. We trace the rise and fall of fashions and tastes that dictated the fate of libraries, and reveal the high crimes and misdemeanors committed in pursuit of rare and valuable manuscripts: the private collector, who offered a sanctuary for books throughout history, is at the heart of the story.

Book cover of The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books: Christopher Columbus, His Son, and the Quest to Build the World's Greatest Library

Hernando Columbus, the illegitimate son of Christopher, seems like a character straight out of a Jorge Luis Borges short story: an extraordinary collector (even hoarder) of books and the founder of a labyrinthine library (the remnants of which are now in the Biblioteca Colombina in Seville Cathedral). The book is chockful of delightful anecdotes and sharp observations thanks to Wilson-Lee’s unerring eye for the many eccentricities of Hernando who, with his magnificent obsession, voyaged, like his father, across the frontiers of knowledge.

The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books

By Edward Wilson-Lee,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Who am I?

Ross King is the author of numerous books about Italian and French art and architecture, including Brunelleschi’s Dome, Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling, and Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the Painting of the Water Lilies. As a full-time writer, he spends much of his time in libraries, archives, and the among piles of books on his overcrowded shelves.


I wrote...

Book cover of The Bookseller of Florence: The Story of the Manuscripts That Illuminated the Renaissance

What is my book about?

The Bookseller of Florence tells the true story of the fifteenth-century manuscript dealer Vespasiano da Bisticci, who began work in a bookshop in Florence at the age of eleven, and who ultimately became what a friend called “the king of the world’s booksellers.” As well as the king of booksellers, he was the bookseller to kings. He plentifully supplied the crowned heads of Europe, as well as Pope Nicholas V, with gorgeously illuminated manuscripts for the libraries that they used to burnish their reputations for cultural refinement. But just as he reached the height of his powers, a new invention, the printing press, appeared in Germany, forever changing how knowledge would be transmitted.

Columbus

By Laurence Bergreen,

Book cover of Columbus: The Four Voyages, 1492-1504

If you want to understand how both South America and the New World were “discovered” by Europeans, which had nearly the same effect on Native Americans that a meteor did on the dinosaurs, there’s no better way to understand it than to journey along on Columbus’ four voyages and be there when he and his crew set ashore. Columbus set foot on the northern part of South America on his third voyage, visiting the coast of what is now Venezuela. Bergreen’s book does an admirable job of introducing you to the man whose voyages would ultimately affect millions of people. This is the closest anyone will ever get to being on board as an entirely New World first hove into sight.

Columbus

By Laurence Bergreen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Columbus as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

He knew nothing of celestial navigation or of the existence of the Pacific Ocean. He was a self-promoting and ambitious entrepreneur. His maps were a hybrid of fantasy and delusion. When he did make land, he enslaved the populace he found, encouraged genocide, and polluted relations between peoples. He ended his career in near lunacy.

But Columbus had one asset that made all the difference, an inborn sense of the sea, of wind and weather, and of selecting the optimal course to get from A to B. Laurence Bergreen's energetic and bracing book gives the whole Columbus and most importantly,…


Who am I?

I lived in Peru for five years, working as a writer, filmmaker, and anthropologist and have travelled extensively in South America, voyaging 4,500 miles from the northern tip of the Andes down to the southern tip of Patagonia, lived with a recently-contacted tribe in the Upper Amazon, visited Maoist Shining Path “liberated zones” in Peru and later made a number of documentaries on the Amazon as well as have written a number of books. Historically, culturally and biologically, South America remains one of the most interesting places on Earth.


I wrote...

Life and Death in the Andes: On the Trail of Bandits, Heroes, and Revolutionaries

By Kim MacQuarrie,

Book cover of Life and Death in the Andes: On the Trail of Bandits, Heroes, and Revolutionaries

What is my book about?

The Andes Mountains are the world’s longest mountain chain, linking most of the countries in South America. Kim MacQuarrie takes us on a historical journey through this unique region, bringing fresh insight and contemporary connections to such fabled characters as Charles Darwin, Che Guevara, Pablo Escobar, Butch Cassidy, Thor Heyerdahl, and others. He describes living on the floating islands of Lake Titicaca. He introduces us to a Patagonian woman who is the last living speaker of her language.

We meet the woman who cared for the wounded Che Guevara just before he died, the police officer who captured cocaine king Pablo Escobar, the dancer who hid Shining Path guerrilla Abimael Guzman, and a man whose grandfather witnessed the death of Butch Cassidy.

Sun, Sea and Sangria

By Victoria Cooke,

Book cover of Sun, Sea and Sangria

An easy vacation read is my go-to, so this book was perfect. I also read this during lockdown, when a vacation was only a fantasy anyway. It will not disappoint, the sun is real, the life is real and the need for love is compelling. Kat is a cute character I can relate to because I also moved to a country where it is summer all year round, but the sun doesn’t take your worries away.  

Sun, Sea and Sangria

By Victoria Cooke,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sun, Sea and Sangria as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This has been the PERFECT escapist read. Lockdown has definitely been made better with this utter gem of a book.' - 5 stars, Netgalley reviewer

Kat swore off dating many years ago, after her marriage ended in a catastrophic mess. Having moved to the Canary Islands for a fresh start, she has never had much time for romance, channelling all her energy into managing an all-male dance troupe - the Heavenly Hunks.

With golden beaches, sparkling blue water and relaxing after work with a glass of sangria - or three - for Kat, it's summer all year round.

But despite…


Who am I?

Romance and chick-lit books hooked me as a young adult. It was this genre that inspired me to write. Since publishing my first book Gut Feeling in 2012 I’ve since written three chick-lit novels and a holiday rom-com screenplay. The fiction world of perfectly unperfect romance never fails.   


I wrote...

Gut Feeling

By Victoria Browne,

Book cover of Gut Feeling

What is my book about?

Ashleigh Lands has given up the chance for a new life in America with her family to stay in London with her boyfriend, Lee Preston. When Lee cheats on her and quickly becomes an ex-boyfriend, Ashleigh loses herself in work and alcohol. Five months later, she’s ready for change and decides to reach for a new, empowered self.

When window glazier Dave Croft shows up for a job where Ashleigh works, the two hit it off immediately. Lee has been harassing her to get her back, but the more she falls for Dave, the more she leaves Lee in her past. Reports of an encounter Dave had while she's on a trip in Ibiza makes her question his integrity—and her life choices. Can she trust her gut feeling?

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