Over the Edge of the World: Magellan's Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe
by Laurence Bergreen
Harper Perennial $124
British sailor Ellen MacArthur set the record in February for the fastest circumnavigation of the world at 71 days and 14 hours. Ferdinand Magellan's Spanish expedition took more than 10 times that long, but his tardiness can be excused. It had never been done before and, as Laurence Bergreen grippingly recounts in this superb book, there was the odd storm, mutiny, orgy and Magellan's being hacked to death on a beach in the Philippines to be contended with. So perilous was his mission, to find a westward sea route to the Spice Islands, he didn't tell his crew where their five ships were going until they'd left Seville in August 1519. Having left the Magellan Straits, it would be 98 terrible days before the voyagers again sighted land. Only one ship and 18 of the original crew of 260 returned in September 1522, bringing news that the world was bigger than anyone imagined.