Cover image for 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
Bergreen, Laurence.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : William Morrow, [2003]

Physical Description:
xvi, 458 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations (some color), color maps ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
G420.M2 B47 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
G420.M2 B47 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
G420.M2 B47 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
G420.M2 B47 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
G420.M2 B47 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
G420.M2 B47 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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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.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Ferdinand Magellan's ship was the first to circumnavigate the globe. While the accomplishment is recognized as a historic milestone, less known are the details of that voyage around the world. Magellan spent years trying to win the favor of the king of Portugal, and failing that he swore loyalty to the Spanish crown. After finally receiving Spain's backing for a trip to the Spice Islands, the king imposed numerous stipulations that would affect Magellan's crew and his authority over them. Once his fleet finally embarked, he had to contend with violent storms, mutinous crewmembers, and hostile natives. Bergreen tells a well-rounded story of Magellan, not just that of the romanticized hero but also that of the explorer's darker side. He also puts the voyage into its historical context, going into detail about what was known of the world at the time (and what was still uncharted), the rivalry between Portugal and Spain, and the church's attempt to divide up the New World between them. Fascinating reading for history buffs, and a great story that rivals any seagoing adventure. --Gavin Quinn Copyright 2003 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Journalist Bergreen, who has penned biographies of James Agee, Louis Armstrong, Irving Berlin and Al Capone, superbly recreates Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan's obsessive 16th-century quest, an ill-fated journey that altered Europe's perception of the planet: "It was a dream as old as the imagination: a voyage to the ends of the earth.... Mariners feared they could literally sail over the edge of the world." In 2001, Bergreen traveled the South American strait that bears Magellan's name, and he adds to that firsthand knowledge satellite images of Magellan's route plus international archival research. His day-by-day account incorporates the testimony of sailors, Francisco Albo's pilot's log and the eyewitness accounts of Venetian scholar Antonio Pigafetta, who was on the journey. Magellan's mission for Spain was to find a water route to the fabled Spice Islands, and in 1519, the Armada de Molucca (five ships and some 260 sailors) sailed into the pages of history. Many misfortunes befell the expedition, including the brutal killing of Magellan in the Philippines. Three years later, one weather-beaten ship, "a vessel of desolation and anguish," returned to Spain with a skeleton crew of 18, yet "what a story those few survivors had to tell-a tale of mutiny, of orgies on distant shores, and of the exploration of the entire globe," providing proof that the world was round. Illuminating the Age of Discovery, Bergreen writes this powerful tale of adventure with a strong presence and rich detail. Maps, 16-page color photo insert. (On sale Oct. 14) Forecast: The national broadcast/print campaign will navigate book buyers into stores via a 15-city NPR tour plus a 25-city radio satellite sweep. Bergreen will give a lecture at the American Museum of Natural History in early November, which could generate further interest in this title. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Bergreen (Voyage to Mars; Louis Armstrong) applies his successful writing skills to this inside story of what really happened during Magellan's epic, three-year circumnavigation of the globe. On September 6, 1522, of the five vessels that began the historic voyage, only one (the Victoria) sailed into the Spanish port of Sanlucar de Barrameda, holding a mere 18 survivors from the original crew of 260. Bergreen provides a gripping, first-rate story of the harrowing journey, the death of Magellan and nearly his entire crew, and the loss of three of the ships (one had already returned to Spain). Bergreen bases the text on exhaustive research into over 500-year-old original and secondary source documents from five languages, including the extensive eyewitness account by Antonio Pigafetta, the official chronicler of the voyage. Readers will be thrilled by Bergreen's superb, lively writing. The work nicely updates Tim Joyner's ten-year-old Magellan and provides a readily accessible, general history of this important event in world history that will also attract interest in academia. Highly recommended for all libraries.-Dale Farris, Groves, TX (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



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. Excerpted from Over the Edge of the World: Magellan's Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe by Laurence Bergreen All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Principal Charactersp. xiii
A Note on Datesp. xv
Measurementsp. xvii
Prologue: A Ghostly Apparitionp. 1
Book 1 In Search of Empire
Chapter I The Questp. 7
Chapter II The Man Without a Countryp. 40
Chapter III Neverlandsp. 68
Chapter IV "The Church of the Lawless"p. 91
Book 2 The Edge of the World
Chapter V The Crucible of Leadershipp. 127
Chapter VI Castawaysp. 155
Chapter VII Dragon's Tailp. 172
Chapter VIII A Race Against Deathp. 204
Chapter IX A Vanished Empirep. 221
Chapter X The Final Battlep. 256
Book 3 Back from the Dead
Chapter XI Ship of Mutineersp. 291
Chapter XII Survivorsp. 313
Chapter XIII Et in Arcadia Egop. 341
Chapter XIV Ghost Shipp. 368
Chapter XV After Magellanp. 395
Notes on Sourcesp. 415
Bibliographyp. 431
Acknowledgmentsp. 441
Indexp. 445