You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

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Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Journeys of the Great Explorers: Columbus To Cook

Journeys of the Great Explorers: Columbus To Cook is part of the Modern Scholar series. It's by Professor Glyndwr Williams of the University of London.

Professor Williams traces the great voyages that made history. Columbus, who first discovered the New World. Columbus died believing that he had found Asia, because that had been his mission and he had staked his entire reputation on it. He was a great navigator, as were many of the explorers.

Magellan was another great navigator, and a Portuguese who worked for the Spanish. He sailed west around South America and across the Pacific, dying in the Phillipines before his ship made it back to Europe. Also covered are de Gama and Drake, and finally Cook.

Much is discussed about the state of maps of the period, and how many believed the world was smaller and Asia closer, or believed there was a large continent in the southern hemisphere to balance those of the northern hemisphere, or that there was a river passage through Africa to the Indian ocean, or that there was a northwest passage north of North America to the Pacific Ocean. This last proved most tragic, as hundreds of men and dozens of ships were lost in the harsh arctic winters after being trapped in the ice.

The professor also goes into a good amount of detail about technology and adversity. Diseases, especially scurvy, ravaged the early voyages. Scurvy was blamed on "sea air", and it was not until James Cook's voyage in the 1770's that a reliable preventative was discovered (lime juice was preferred). Also, a reliable means of determining longitude wasn't available until precise chronometers were developed. The Solomon Islands, discovered in the 16th century, couldn't be found again because the maps placed them thousands of miles to the east.

I'll give the lecture a B+. The professor's voice isn't as entertaining as others in the series I've listened to. I appreciate the detail, and could have used much more. But overall, the lecture led me to want to hear more about the great sea voyages of history.


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