Somewhere buried in a comment here someone mentioned that Stefan Zweig wrote a book about Magellan. I have always loved reading about the famous explorers and with my new found interest in Zweig I had to have it. I went to Amazon and found a used copy for five bucks plus a little freight. The copy I received is a very early edition, as it has a picture of a nice boat on front of the style that Magellan used and the pages had that old book smell and feel.
To cut to the chase, this book is absolutely fantastic. Zweig is just so easy to read, it is almost like the guy is sitting across from you reading the book for you.
There are some spoilers below but not too many. If you don’t care for the spoilers, put this one on the top of your reading list. It is a breeezy three hundred pages or so and won’t take long to get through.
The first part of the book, approximately one third of it or so, describes in detail how Magellan had to wind his way through the political labyrinths of the day to get his very secret mission underway, and how he was spurned by the Portuguese and turned to the Spanish to, as we say today, “get ‘er done”.
It took a LOT of money, time, materiel and manpower just to get the mission underway, and Magellan didn’t even tell his crews where they were going. The crew thought for the most part that they were going to the Spice Islands – they were, just not the way they thought.
Five ships set out from Spain.
They set sail across the Atlantic Ocean and eventually hit South America. Expedition after expedition was sent into inlet after inlet and they simply could not find the passage to the Pacific Ocean. They were forced to winter off of South America and a mutiny had to be taken care of.
Eventually, finally, Magellan found the passage and they sailed west, all the way across the Pacific Ocean and made it to their destination.
Zweig describes the voyage in painstaking detail and also talks about what absolute misery the men were in on those boats.
Magellan was killed in the Phillipines in an insane battle that I don’t want to ruin for you. You must read about it.
Of the five original ships, one made it back to Spain after the enormous trip all the way around the world (other boats made it back, but they had turned around). The crew were lauded as heroes.
Of course this book has so much more to it than my paltry writeup can provide. If this subject interests you at all, or even just the generic genre of adventure writing, this book is definitely for you. One of the best books I have read…since the last Zweig book I consumed.