Over the Edge of the World: Magellan's Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe

Over the Edge of the World: Magellan's Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe

by Laurence Bergreen


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Over the Edge of the World: Magellan's Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe by Laurence Bergreen

The riveting story of Ferdinand Magellan’s historic 60,000-mile ocean voyage—now updated with a new introduction commemorating the 500th anniversary of his journey.

“Prodigious research, sure-footed prose and vivid descriptions make for a thoroughly satisfying account... it is all here in the wondrous detail, a first-rate historical page turner.”— New York Times Book Review

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, prize-winning biographer and journalist Laurence Bergreen entwines a variety of candid, firsthand accounts, bringing to life this groundbreaking and majestic tale of discovery that changed both the way explorers would henceforth navigate the oceans and history itself.

Now updated to include a new introduction commemorating the 500th anniversary of Magellan’s voyage.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060936389
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 11/02/2004
Series: P.S. Series
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 512
Sales rank: 119,559
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Laurence Bergreen is the author of four biographies, each considered the definitive work on its subject: Louis Armstrong: An Extravagant Life, Capone: The Man and the Era, As Thousands Cheer: The Life of Irving Berlin, and Voyage to Mars: NASA's Search for Life Beyond Earth. A graduate of Harvard University, he lives in New York City.

Read an Excerpt

Over the Edge of the World
Magellan's Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe

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 instituted the Inquisition in 1492 to purge Spain of Jews and Moors. They exerted considerable influence over the papacy, and they had every reason to expect a sympathetic hearing in Rome. Ferdinand and Isabella wanted the pope's blessing to protect the recent discoveries made by Christopher Columbus, the Genoese navigator who claimed a new world for Spain. Portugal, Spain's chief rival for control of world trade, threatened to assert its own claim to the newly discovered lands, as did England and France.

Ferdinand and Isabella implored Pope Alexander VI to support Spain's title to the New World. He responded by issuing papal bulls -- solemn edicts -- establishing a line of demarcation between Spanish and Portuguese territories around the globe. The line extended from the North Pole to the South Pole. It was located one hundred leagues (about four hundred miles) west of an obscure archipelago known as the Cape Verde Islands, located in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of North Africa. Antonio and Bartolomeo da Noli, Genoese navigators sailing for Portugal, had discovered them in 1460, and ever since, the islands had served as an outpost in the Portuguese slave trade.

The papal bulls granted Spain exclusive rights to those parts of the globe that lay to the west of the line; the Portuguese, naturally, were supposed to keep to the east. And if either kingdom happened to discover a land ruled by a Christian ruler, neither would be able to claim it. Rather than settling disputes between Portugal and Spain, this arrangement touched off a furious race between the nations to claim new lands and to control the world's trade routes even as they attempted to shift the line of demarcation to favor one side or the other. The bickering over the line's location continued as diplomats from both countries convened in the little town of Tordesillas, in northwestern Spain, to work out a compromise.

In Tordesillas, the Spanish and Portuguese representatives agreed to abide by the idea of a papal division, which seemed to protect the interests of both parties. At the same time, the Portuguese prevailed on the Spanish representatives to move the line 270 leagues west; now it lay 370 leagues west of the Cape Verde Islands, at approxi-mately 46°30'W, according to modern calculations. This change placed the boundary in the middle of the Atlantic, roughly halfway between the Cape Verde Islands and the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. The new boundary gave the Portuguese ample access to the African continent by water and, even more important, allowed the Portuguese to claim the newly discovered land of Brazil. But the debate over the line -- and the claims for empire that depended on its placement -- dragged on for years. Pope Alexander VI died in 1503, and he was succeeded by Pope Julius II, who in 1506 agreed to the changes, and the Treaty of Tordesillas achieved its final form.

The result of endless compromises, the treaty created more problems than it solved. It was impossible to fix the line's location because cosmologists did not yet know how to determine longitude -- nor would they for another two hundred years. To further complicate matters, the treaty failed to specify whether the line of demarcation extended all the way around the globe or bisected just the Western Hemisphere. Finally, not much was known about the location of oceans and continents. Even if the world was round, and men of science and learning agreed that it was, the maps of 1494 depicted a very different planet from the one we know today. They mixed geography with mythology, adding phantom continents while neglecting real ones, and the result was an image of a world that never was. Until Copernicus, it was generally assumed that the earth was at the absolute center of the universe, with the perfectly circular planets -- including the sun -- revolving around it in perfectly circular, fixed orbits; it is best to conceive of the earth as nested in the center of all these orbits.

Even the most sophisticated maps revealed the limitations of the era's cosmology. In the Age of Discovery, cosmology was a specialized, academicfield that concerned itself with describing the image of the world, including the study of oceans and land, as well as the world's place in the cosmos. Cosmologists occupied prestigious chairs at universities, and were held in high regard by the thrones of Europe. Although many were skilled mathematicians, they often concerned themselves with astrology, believed to be a legitimate branch of astronomy, a practice that endeared them to insecure rulers in search of reassurance in an uncertain world. And it was changing faster than cosmologists realized. Throughout the sixteenth century, the calculations and theories of the ancient Greek and Egyptian mathematicians and astronomers served as the basis of cosmology, even as new discoveries undermined time-honored assumptions. Rather than acknowledge that a true scientific revolution was at hand ...

Over the Edge of the World
Magellan's Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe
. Copyright © by Laurence Bergreen. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Over the Edge of the World: Magellan's Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 76 reviews.
gruntled More than 1 year ago
If all history were written in the style in which Bergreen takes up the Ferdinand Magellan's pioneering circumnavigation of the world (at a time when seamen still feared either being overwhelmed by sea monsters or falling off the edge of the world), teachers would find many more of their students eager to study history. On practically every page the reader is treated to well researched insights into the state of navigational technology and cartography as well as anthropological awareness in the early sixteen century. Indeed, the reader feels himself a passenger on one of Magellan's fragile ships as the fleet slowly, and at great loss, batters its way through what later would be known as the Straits of Magellan and the tumultuous and unanticipated expanse of the Pacific Ocean for a cargo of spices then worth far more than their weight in gold. The present-day relevance of this extraordinary account becomes apparent as the reader realizes that this early intercontinental exploration parallels, in many ways, the stage we are at and the unknown dangers we confront in present-day interplanetary exploration. Although the frontiers are now incredibly more distant, the courage required of the seamen five centuries ago was no less than that displayed by our astronauts. The reader should be cautioned at the beginning of this book to fasten his/her seat-belt.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book had me hooked from the beginning. The oceanic explorers were the most daring people alive in the 16th century and Magellan epitomized the type: driven, intelligent, wily, and strangely also rigid and unbending in many ways that eventually came to undo him. Bergreen is an excellent storyteller weaving the narrative of this journey skillfully with flashbacks and foreshadowing. Highly recommend this book to all interested in the people who dared to conquer the superstition and mystery that was the world.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Over the Edge of the World is a great book that keeps you turning pages. It is written as it could be a novel with great detail but Begreen summarizes each main passage of the importance of what had just happened and why it happened. It is easy to read, and makes you want to keep reading. The subject is very interesting and really brings you back to that time. Highly reccomended
Guest More than 1 year ago
Bergreen's book transported me to the world inhabited by Magellan and his contemporaries...the account is so exciting that it reads like a novel. I agree about the map issue that was brought up by another reader and also found myself wishing there were more maps interspersed throughout the text. However, the maps that were provided were beautifully done.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The words amazing, riveting and gripping are often overused. When it comes to describing the events and characters that undertook the first-recorded European circumnavigation of the globe - no other words would do justice. This is by far the most richly detailed, deeply historic account of the Renaissance equivalent of space travel. No other book has fired my imagination or passion for the history of this period than Bergreen's 'Over the Edge of the World'. If you love adventure, the ocean and a tale as epic as Homer's Odyssey, you will love this book. CS Acta New York, New York
Stbalbach on LibraryThing 5 days ago
History that reads like a novel. Fascinating account of Magellan's 1520s first circumnavigation of the world. Widely considered the greatest voyage of the Age of Discovery. Left with 5 ships and 260 men, arrived 3 years later with 1 ship and 18 men. Beset from the start by corrupt officials, rotting supplies, feuding crew, mutinous captains, scurvy, starvation, blank charts, unreliable instruments, storms, tiny boats, deadly natives, disease -- fear of sailing off the edge of the earth -- a captain hell-bent on personal glory at the exspense of the mission -- all the while changing how humans see the world -- there are few comparable stories of human exploration.If you liked this, be sure to pick up 12-years later with "Brutal Journey"
peggyar on LibraryThing 5 days ago
This is the story of Magellan's voyage around the world. The details are fascinating and it gives you a true sense of the world during that time.
co_coyote on LibraryThing 5 days ago
This is a most interesting book about Ferdinand Magellan's circumnavigation of the globe in the sixteenth century. I'm always amazed (I don't know why, since I'm certainly old enough to know better by now) at how at odds my grade school history education is with how things really happened. This is a fascinating story of an extremely complex man, leading a fractious crew on the ultimate journey of discovery. It relies heavily on Antonio Pigafetta's remarkable journal of the voyage, and describes in great detail the dangers and sights of the journey, from a mutinous crew, to dangerous natives, to the privations of life on ship. I highly recommend this book to people interested in this remarkable journey.
darlenejoy on LibraryThing 5 days ago
Any Filipino grade schooler knows that Magellan `discovered¿ the Philippines in March 1521. What they didn¿t teach in school was what happened on the historic journey that eventually proved that the world was round. Laurence Bergreen provides a gripping and detailed account of Magellan¿s terrifying circumnavigation of the world in ¿Over the Edge of the World.¿ Terrifying it is, because of the wild waters, `uncivilized¿ islanders, and mutinous crew.We learned from school that Ferdinand Magellan was a Portuguese sailor who sailed for the King of Spain, Charles. Bergreen tells the underlying political issues that led to this awkward situation. After much lobbying, Magellan was granted the most ambitious fleet ever¿the Armada de Molucca, but his largely Spanish crew distrusted him and were forever plotting to unseat him.Like an adventure tale, we sail with the Armada as it seeks the Spice Islands of Moluccas. In those days, spices like cloves and cinnamon were worth more than their weight in gold and whoever controlled the spice trade controlled the world economy (or at least that of Western Europe). We learn about what it was like to be a sailor in those days, that is, to risk death by scurvy or survive tumultuous waters on a diet of moldy biscuits in very unhygienic conditions. Bergreen sets the right tone for the reader to appreciate the grand scale of the voyage. It was only when I read this book that I began to understand what Magellan had done and get a glimpse into his persona. He is portrayed as fiercely loyal to King Charles, an able navigator, a discipline leader and single-minded in the pursuit of the Spice Islands.Most interesting to me was the part where the fleet reach what is now known as the Philippine Islands. After a mutiny and unfavorable weather, the five-ship Armada is now down to three. Magellan befriends the local leader, Rajah Humabon, but earns the ire of the neighboring chieftain, Lapu-Lapu. The devout Catholic had made it his personal crusade to convert the locals to Christianity and when Lapu-Lapu¿s tribe refused, Magellan burned his village. We know what happened after¿ Magellan was killed by a poisoned arrow that hit his leg. What is left of his crew learns from the follies of Magellan and gets back on track to finding spices and going back to Spain. They reach the Moluccas, load spices, and arrive in Seville three years after they set sail. But not without considerable adventure from their dealings with the islanders and trying to run away from the Portuguese who were hot on their trail. Only 18 out of the 260 men who left with Magellan arrive in Seville in just one ship out of the five that made up the Armada de Molucca.Reading the book, I felt the grandeur of the expedition that was ground-breaking and broke commonly held myths 500 years ago. I wish they taught history like this. I couldn¿t stop reading Bergreen¿s narrative and it often felt like I was reading a thriller, not a historical account. Obviously backed by tons of research, he cites historical documents but the storytelling never gets boring; in the end the characters felt like real people and not just names in some history book. I was immersed in the world that existed then, a world eager to discover what lay beyond the vast oceans.Rating: 5 out of 5: Highly recommended. A great story of an amazing journey during a magical time of wonder and exploration.
Doondeck on LibraryThing 5 days ago
Very readable chronicle of Magellan's voyage of discovery. Many original sources/diaries were used but the narrative flowed well.
woollymammoth on LibraryThing 5 days ago
Magellen was an amazingly determined Portugese man who became the first person to cicrcumnagivate the world. Even getting the trip going was an amazing feet of dertermination, some of his crews thought he was a despot and very few of the men he took came back. It's a great combination of an easy read , historical accuracy and good research. This is leaving my bookshelf over my dead body.
ursula on LibraryThing 9 days ago
I found this book fascinating, and an extremely quick read. I have to admit that I didn't know more than the headline version of Magellan's circumnavigation; perhaps to someone who knows more it wouldn't be nearly as interesting. The only complaint I have is that after Magellan's death, the last part of the journey drags without the force of his personality. However, that is a short section of the book and I'd still highly recommend this one.
bcquinnsmom on LibraryThing 9 days ago
Synopsis:In 1519 Spain and Portugal dominated the seas, and spice, which the author states was the oil of the time, enveloped both countries in an intense rivalry for control of the spice trade. Why couldn't both countries share the wealth? Well, after Columbus had reported his New World discoveries back in 1493 to the Pope, both countries got into it over territory. A bit later the Pope divided the world into two parts, half belonging to Spain and half belonging to Portugal. I had to go and look this up because it is somewhat confusing & I studied East Asian history, not medieval Spanish history. Anyway, the Treaty of Tordesillas was born, and this line of demarcation meant that within the Portuguese zone, the Portuguese could claim lands newly discovered & the same for Spain within theirs. However, the spice trade was incredibly lucrative, according to the author, bringing more money than gold ever could. Thus the equivalent of the arms race was born, with Spain wanting control of lands yielding spices and the Portuguese in control of maps with routes leading to the sources of spice kept under lock and key, highly guarded state secrets.Portuguese Ferdinand Magellan wanted to lead an expedition for his king to the spice Islands and a new way of getting there. However, politically, Magellan was on the wrong side of the fence; so every time he asked the king turned him down. Finally out of exasperation, he begged the king to let him seek his fortune elsewhere, the king relented and Magellan went to Spain to offer his services. Not knowing what to make of this, those in charge in Spain listened, ruminated, and allowed Magellan his expedition, yet with some controls. For example, one of the "nephews" (a euphemism for illegitimate sons of high-ranking bishops, popes, etc) of a bishop with ties to ther oyal house was sent on the mission, because even though Magellan had turned over Portuguese charts, etc, and declared his loyalty to Spain, the Spanish could never be certain of him. So...to make a long story short, eventually Magellan and his little fleet began their adventure, not only to find the spice islands & claim them for Spain, but to try to discover a water route of which the Portuguese had no knowledge. The result of his voyage was tragic for everyone but Spain, in the long run. You've all heard of the Straits of Magellan, so the outcome is no big surprise...but the story of the fleet getting to that point and then to the death of Magellan is the meat of this book.In fact, the book to the point of Magellan's death is perfect. I was so into the story that another long night of reading ensued until I realized at 3 am that I had to be up at 6:30 and probably needed rest. Not only did the author use a great source in the voice of the voyage's chronicler, Antonio Pigafetta, to give details, but he also supplied references to works that would have been familiar at the time to sailors, including fantastic stories of Pliny and Marco Polo of sea monsters & cyclopean-type natives, etc etc. I have to go find those now & read them for myself. After seeking out and reading reviews of this book, I noticed that many current readers thought that Bergreen failed to provide answers to certain details Pigafetta had mentioned, such as "giants" among the Patagonian natives. Well, you can't have everything & that certainly didn't spoil the reading for me, although I did find myself wondering. What wasn't explained was certainly more than made up for in the author's story of the voyage up to Magellan's death.It seems to me, though, that after that point, the book lapsed. Of course, Bergreen has to get the survivors of the skirmishes back to Spain and tell what happened, but IMHO, the ardor & depth with which the author told the story up to that time just vanished. That doesn't mean it wasn't good, by any stretch.I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the subject matter. The details of th
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have almost 500 books in my e reader yet I read this one again. Loved it, obviously. Well-written page-turner even though you know the end. Meticulously documented yet great historic fiction. My favorite book, overall. Melodee Cole, Palm Springs, CA
KristinAZ More than 1 year ago
Perfect balance of adventure and backstory. So much I didn't know!
DPAULFENTON More than 1 year ago
Great work. Enjoyable journey with magellen. Great read and interesting. If I was Magellen however, I would ask the cruise company for my money back.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very well written. Highly recommemded.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Though a bit tedius at the start, this summary of Magellan's voyage around the world is a surprisingly entertaining account.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
alexphilAU More than 1 year ago
For every Filipino like me, Magellan's voyage to the Spice Islands in 1521 is a very important fact of history. This is because it brought about the first contact between the Orientals and the Europeans, that was recorded. Bergreen's rendition of the voyage is compelling and oozing with very interesting details. From his storytelling we can see the very hard experience that Magellan and his men went through in finding the straight that leads to the Pacific ocean, the Philippines and ultimately: the Spice Islands, the main reason for the trip. Perhaps it will take another decade or two before another book of this caliber will be printed. This is pure history, well researched and interestingly presented for the modern day reader. Aside from the Pigafetta codex, Bergreen has exhausted all the possible sources to write this powerful history of the first voyage around the world or as codex in the Escorial would say "Il Premiere viaggio il mundo",
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Absolutely yes!! Kept me up for three nights. Amazing. We never learned history the way it is presented here.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was instantly caught up in sixteenth century Spanish/Portugal politics, the manners and beliefs of that period, and mostly the amazing quest of Magellan who was obsessed with finding a new route to the Spice Islands. Fiction could never be this good. I was completely caught up with how the sailors felt as they were lost for months on the Pacific, fearful that sea monsters were real or wondering if they would sail off the edge of the world. Their discovery of new lands and people could be compared to space travel for us today and meeting aliens. I couldn't put this book down and recommend it for anyone who loves history, and especially for those who think history is boring.
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