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John Dyson
Photography by Peter Christopher
New York, Viking Penguin, 1991. 228pp, cloth, $45.00
ISBN 0-670-83725-3. Distributed by Penguin Books Canada. CIP

Grades 7 and up/Ages 12 and up

Reviewed by Brenda Reed.

Volume 20 Number 2
1992 March

With the 500th anniversary of the discovery of the Americas by Columbus upon us, you may be considering an addition to your collection on that famous explorer. Here is an offering that will interest a wide range of readers. is a cross between a coffee table display item and a scholarly text, resulting in an intelligently argued text accompanied by truly outstanding illustrations. It is the colour photo­graphs, the artistically drawn and carefully explained maps, and the excellently reproduced paintings and original documents that will draw students to this book. The book is slightly oversized, well bound, and lavishly produced, with slightly glossy paper and an elaborate fold-out map of the possible route Columbus followed to the New World. The splendid colour illustrations dominate the text, often covering two pages.

Dyson and Christopher accompanied Dr. Luis Miguel Coin Cuenca, a profes­sor of maritime history at the University of Cadiz in Spain, on a voyage across the Atlantic, retracing the route Columbus may have taken. The voyage was undertaken in a replica of the , which left Spain in June of 1990 and reached the Virgin Islands twenty-two days later. The photographs of this "re­creation" journey complement the illustrations from earlier centuries.

Dyson presents the theories of Coin concerning some of the controversial aspects of the life and voyages of Columbus. It is proposed that Columbus did not head directly west from the Canary Islands, as is generally accepted, but rather headed south for several days before heading west on the nineteenth or twentieth parallel. Coin came to this conclusion through careful analysis of a version of the log Columbus kept on his voyage. Unfortu­nately, the original log is lost, and the closest authentic document that histori­ans have access to is a summary of the "Diario" that was written twenty-five years after Columbus died. Coin also argues, as the title suggests, that Columbus' main purpose was not to find a short cut to the East, but rather to find gold. Dyson reports Coin's thesis that Columbus already had information about the lands he was searching for, and probably even had a map of these new lands. Columbus was thus aware that he was not heading for Asia, but for unexplored lands where evidence of gold had been seen.

Coin argues methodically and convincingly, using evidence from what we know of Columbus' words and actions from 1478 to 1506. Coin's arguments are based on research for his recently completed Ph.D. on the voy­ages of Columbus. Dyson, who is an editor for , has done an admirable job of reducing a Ph.D. thesis to an intriguing tale of heroism, cruelty, disaster and defeat. The documentation found in a scholarly work is not in­cluded here.

Senior high school students will enjoy the accounts of Columbus' voyages, and younger students will appreciate the illustrations depicting the towns and areas that Columbus knew and the photographs of the 1990 voyage. The authors suggest that "[a]fter Jesus Christ, no individual has made a bigger impact on the Western world than Christopher Columbus." If you can afford the price, this book offers a pleasant entrance to Columbus' world. A bibliography and index are included.

Brenda Reed, Lennoxville, Que.
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