Essential Books on Christopher Columbus
There are countless books on Christopher Columbus, and it comes with good reason, he was an Italian explorer and navigator who completed four voyages across the Atlantic Ocean, opening the way for the widespread European exploration and colonization of the Americas.
“By prevailing over all obstacles and distractions, one may unfailingly arrive at his chosen goal or destination,” he remarked.
In order to get to the bottom of what inspired one of history’s most consequential figures to explore the treacherous unknown, we’ve compiled a list of the 5 best books on Christopher Columbus.
Admiral of the Ocean Sea by Samuel Eliot Morison
Winner of the 1943 Pulitzer Prize for Biography, Admiral of the Ocean Sea is Samuel Eliot Morison’s classic biography of the greatest sailor of them all, Christopher Columbus. It is written with the insight, energy, and authority that only someone who had himself sailed in Columbus’s path to the New World could muster. Morison undertook this expedition in a 147-foot schooner and a 47-foot ketch, the dimensions of these craft roughly matching those of Columbus’s Santa Maria and Nina. The result is this vivid and definitive biography that accurately details the voyages that, for better or worse, changed the world.
Samuel Eliot Morison, Rear Admiral, United States Naval Reserve (1887-1976), was an American historian noted for his works of history, especially maritime history, that were both authoritative and highly readable.
The Last Voyage of Columbus by Martin Dugard
The Year is 1500. Christopher Columbus, stripped of his title Admiral of the Ocean Seas, waits in chains in a Caribbean prison built under his orders, looking out at the colony that he founded, nurtured, and ruled for eight years. Less than a decade after discovering the New World, he has fallen into disgrace, accused by the royal court of being a liar, a secret Jew, and a foreigner who sought to steal the riches of the New World for himself.
The tall, freckled explorer with the aquiline nose, whose flaming red hair long ago turned gray, passes his days in prayer and rumination, trying to ignore the waterfront gallows that are all too visible from his cell. And he plots for one great escape, one last voyage to the ends of the earth, one final chance to prove himself. What follows is one of history’s most epic – and forgotten – adventures. Columbus himself would later claim that his fourth voyage was his greatest. It was without doubt his most treacherous. Of the four ships he led into the unknown, none returned. Columbus would face the worst storms a European explorer had ever encountered. He would battle to survive amid mutiny, war, and a shipwreck that left him stranded on a desert isle for almost a year.
On his tail were his enemies, sent from Europe to track him down. In front of him: the unknown. Martin Dugard’s thrilling account of this final voyage brings Columbus to life as never before – adventurer, businessman, father, lover, tyrant, and hero.
Columbus: The Four Voyages by Larence Bergreen
Christopher Columbus’s 1492 voyage across the Atlantic Ocean in search of a trading route to China, and his unexpected landfall in the Americas, is a watershed event in world history. Yet Columbus made three more voyages within the span of only a decade, each designed to demonstrate that he could sail to China within a matter of weeks and convert those he found there to Christianity.
These later voyages were even more adventurous, violent, and ambiguous, but they revealed Columbus’s uncanny sense of the sea, his mingled brilliance and delusion, and his superb navigational skills. In all these exploits he almost never lost a sailor. By their conclusion, however, Columbus was broken in body and spirit. If the first voyage illustrates the rewards of exploration, the latter voyages illustrate the tragic costs – political, moral, and economic. In rich detail, Laurence Bergreen re-creates each of these adventures as well as the historical background of Columbus’s celebrated, controversial career.
Christopher Columbus: A Man Among Gentiles by Clark B. Hinckley
Over the centuries, the story of Christopher Columbus has become so enshrouded in myth that his life has remained largely a mystery to all but a handful of scholars. Yet the prophet Nephi suggests that Columbus stands out among historical figures as “a man among the Gentiles.” In fact, Lehi and Nephi identify only two specific individuals in their prophecy of the latter-day Restoration: Christopher Columbus and Joseph Smith.
In a sense, these two men stand as bookends to the Restoration one at the beginning and one at the end. Columbus himself wrote that he was inspired by the Holy Ghost to undertake his voyage, a claim that some historians struggle to accept. This candid and revealing gem among books on Christopher Columbus uncovers a man with two great dreams, who understood his prophetic mission and his place in history.
The Race to the New World by Douglas Hunter
Every schoolchild knows that “in 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue” – but what they don’t teach you in history class is that he wasn’t the only one. In The Race to the New World, Douglas Hunter tells for the first time the fascinating tale of how Christopher Columbus was embroiled in a high-stakes race with Venetian John Cabot to find a shortcut to the East – and how they found a New World that neither was looking for. Employing fresh research and new translations of critical documents, Hunter reveals the surprisingly intertwined lives of the fabled explorer and his forgotten rival, and provides a fresh perspective on the first years of the European discovery of the New World.
If you enjoyed this guide to essential books on Christopher Columbus, check out our list of The 5 Best Books on Neil Armstrong!