How 260 men set out from Seville in September 1519 to find a new route to the Spice Islands, and how a mere 18 returned having completed the first circumnavigation of the globe after nearly 60,000 miles and three years is an epic story that has found a worthy author. Laurence Berggreen rewards the reader by marrying scholarly research with eloquent, readable prose.
There is no attempt to portray the achievement as heroic, astounding though it was. This is an account of hardship, disease, torture, murder, betrayal, but it is also a vivid tale of discovery and observation of previously unknown places, people and things. Framing it all, and giving the narrative a shape that might translate to a novel, is the rivalry between Spain and Portugal for commercial domination of the oceans.
Even as the end is almost within reach, there is no certainty of success for the single remaining ship of the five that set out. Berggreen writes, "... the weather continued to batter the boat by night too, so there was no rest for the crew, nor safe harbour, nor cooking fire, nor soft dry blanket, nor guarantee that their misery would end any time soon ... And so they tried again and again, fleeing for their lives, hoping to cheat death just one more time."
This is history as thriller. Simply magnificent.