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Summary and book reviews of Over the Edge of the World by Laurence Bergreen

Over the Edge of the World

Magellan's Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe

by Laurence Bergreen

Over the Edge of the World
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2003, 480 pages
    Paperback:
    Nov 2004, 528 pages

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Book Summary

Magellan's unprecedented circumnavigation of the globe is the subject of this gripping story of heroism, discovery, and disaster.

Ferdinand Magellan's daring circumnavigation of the globe in the sixteenth century was a three-year odyssey filled with sex, violence, and amazing adventure. Now in Over the Edge of the World, acclaimed author Laurence Bergreen, interweaving a variety of candid, first-person accounts, some previously unavailable in English, brings to life this groundbreaking and majestic tale of discovery that changed many long-held views about the world and the way explorers would henceforth navigate its oceans.

In 1519 Magellan and his fleet set sail from Seville, Spain, to find a water route to the Spice Islands in Indonesia, where the most sought-after commodities — cloves, pepper, and nutmeg — flourished. Most important, they were looking for a passageway, a strait, through the great landmass of the Americas that would lead them to these fabled islands. Laurence Bergreen takes readers on board with Magellan and his crew as they explore, navigate, mutiny, suffer, and die across the seas. He also recounts the many unusual sexual practices the crew experienced, from orgies in Brazil to bizarre customs in the South Pacific. With a fleet of five ships and more than two hundred men, they had set out in search of the Spice Islands. Three years later they returned with an abundance of spices from their intended destination, but with just one ship carrying eighteen emaciated men. They suffered starvation, disease, and torture, and many died, including Magellan, who was violently killed in a fierce battle.

A man of great tenacity, cunning, and courage, Magellan was full of contradictions. He was both heroic and foolish, insightful yet blind, a visionary whose instincts outran his ideals. Ambitious to a fault and not above using torture and murder to maintain control of his ships and sailors, he survived innumerable natural hazards in addition to several violent mutinies aboard his own fleet — and it took no less than the massed forces of fifteen hundred men to kill him.

This is the first time in nearly half a century that anyone has attempted to narrate the complete story of Magellan's unprecedented circumnavigation of the globe — to tell this truly gripping and profoundly important story of heroism, discovery, and disaster. A voyage into history, a tour of the world emerging from the Middle Ages into the Renaissance, an anthropological account of tribes, languages, and customs unknown to Europeans, and a chronicle of a desperate grab for commercial and political power, Over the Edge of the World is a captivating tale that rivals the most exciting thriller fiction.

Chapter One
The Quest

"He holds him with his skinny hand,
"There was a ship," quoth he.
"Hold off! unhand me, grey-beard loon!"
"Eftsoons his hand dropt he.


On June 7, 1494, Pope Alexander VI divided the world in half, bestowing the western portion on Spain, and the eastern on Portugal.

Matters might have turned out differently if the Pontiff had not been a Spaniard — Rodrigo de Borja, born near Valencia — but he was. A lawyer by training, he assumed the Borgia name when his maternal uncle, Alfonso Borgia, began his brief reign as Pope Callistus III. As his lineage suggests, Alexander VI was a rather secular pope, among the wealthiest and most ambitious men in Europe, fond of his many mistresses and his illegitimate offspring, and endowed with sufficient energy and ability to indulge his worldly passions.

He brought the full weight of his authority to bear on the appeals of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, the "Catholic Monarchs" of Spain who had ...

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Reviews

Media Reviews
Booklist - Gavin Quinn

... a well-rounded story of Magellan, not just that of the romanticized hero but also that of the explorer's darker side. Fascinating reading for history buffs, and a great story that rivals any seagoing adventure.

Publishers Weekly

[A] powerful tale of adventure with a strong presence and rich detail.

Library Journal

A revisionist view—and also a cracking good tale.

Kirkus Reviews - Suzanne Gluck

A vivid account of Magellan’s star-crossed voyage around the world nearly five centuries ago. Very nicely written through and through, and a pleasure for students of world exploration.

Reader Reviews
Britt

Page Turner
Very well written. Begreen knows what he's talking about and you can tell with the great detail and arrangement of facts. Chapters are brought to their conclusion on how they are important and what everything means at their end. Highly recommended.   Read More

Bobby D.

Does a history book have this much right to be a fun page-turner? Yes, and Laurence Bergreen exceeds to great story telling, marvelous adventure, creating a just plain enjoyable read. Taken either as history or read like a novel this is an amazingly ...   Read More

Patsy Bailey

I thoroughly enjoyed this book for several reasons. It is well written; that is, it keeps the reader's attention. It is exciting and at the same time factual and historical. I gained a new appreciation for the early explorers. Not only were they ...   Read More

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