History with Laurence Bergreen‘s Over the Edge of the World sure is fun! This is one almighty story about the first circumnavigation of the globe! Now “circumnavigation” is a mighty big word and it took us quite a while of studying its etymology before we could begin American historian Laurence Bergreen’s tome. When we did, we were agape at the lunacy of the Age of Discovery.
You see, believe it or not, 500 years back spices (such as cloves and pepper) were gold chunks, and stashing up on a bounty of these would ensure a successful voyage met with a life of luxury. Thusly, in 1519, Ferdinand Magellan led a five ship voyage from Spain with 260 lives on board. The plan was to reach the Spice Islands (Moluccas – an archipelago in Indonesia), claim a bounty of nutmeg etc., and return to Spain to claim riches, glory, and the historic circumnavigation. Easy, right?
Over the Edge of the World
No. Not at all. For a start Magellan figured crossing the Pacific Ocean would take a week or so – it took three months. Prior to this the Portuguese Magellan had already fended off a mutiny from outraged Spanish captains, but the full on ravages of scurvy and starvation took its toll during the Pacific section of the journey. In the subsequent years the crew would face even more chaos: a stranding, war, further scurvy, more acrimonious infighting, and captivity.
Eventually, after three tortuous years, and with only 18 bedraggled crew members surviving, one knackered ship pulled into port in Spain. This did, in an iconic moment, complete the first circumnavigation. It also marked the discovery of what was dubbed the Magellan Strait which proved mighty useful for trading routes during the Age of Discovery. Magellan was even recently praised by NASA for his seamanship, although Juan Sebastian Elcano really deserves top honours (you’ll have to read it to find out why, innit).
History buffs will love this buke, which is why we’re recommending it! Who we have to thank for this story, though, is Italian scholar Antonio Pigafetta, who kept an incredibly detailed diary of the three year expedition and (luckily for us) somehow survived the utter mayhem. He wrote a book about the journey, but it wasn’t fully published until hundreds of years later. Also, sadly, the original copy has been long lost. For shame! However, we must thank Bergreen for this excellent recollection.