Christopher Columbus: The Voyage That Changed the World

Front Cover
Sterling Publishing Company, Inc., 2008 - Juvenile Nonfiction - 124 pages
Christopher Columbus and his crew had been sailing for five weeks into uncharted waters before finally reaching land one blazing hot day in 1492. It was a difficult journey that many predicted would be impossible, but Columbus proved them wrong and his voyage changed the world. Columbus had done it: he was the first man to reach the East by sailing west, and he was heralded as the Father of the New World. Columbus would take three more voyages to different places, but he remains best known as the pioneer who opened routes to the exploration and settlement of the Americas. Book jacket.

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Good Storytelling -- Bad History
I have been using several Sterling Publisher bios with my ESL students in Japan. --
Geronimo, Harriet Tubman, Lewis & Clark, Malcolm X etc. .
They are all interesting and informative.
However, Emma Carlson Berne's biography on Columbus has several inaccuracies and unfounded, dubious conjectures.
1. The most egregious is right on page 1 (paragraph 4)
"Yes. There it was--land! Columbus had done it: He was the first man to reach the East by sailing west."
WHAT?! But he never reached the East at all -- he found the Western hemisphere instead.
This clear misstatement of history could have been fixed by adding "Or so he thought."
But she didn't say that or anything like it, and the statement as written could easily confuse some 12 year olds.
( In case you missed it, Magellan was the first to reach the East by sailing west. ). Does Ms Berne really think reached the East?
2. page 49 (paragraph 5)
"Engines, running water and refrigeration would not be inverted for another 450 years."
REALLY? None of these existed in 1942? Any google search clearly shows that the steam engine was being developed in the 18th century and widely implemented throughout the 19th ( By 1869 railways spanned from Atlantic to Pacific etc ).
Not to mention that the Romans had had running water a millenium earlier and the Persians long before that.
3. page 51 (paragraph 3)
... No one had ever sailed this long before (as his crossing the Atlantic).
OH? Perhaps no European had. But what about the Polynesians who had come to Hawaii centuries earlier?
And Thor Heyerdahl's experiment with Kon Tiki proved that even longer voyages were certainly possible.
(And I imagine that those Polynesians who missed Hawaii went quite a bit farther before perishing.)
Also, Herodotus claims that the Phoenicians had circum-navigated Africa millenia before Vasco Da Gama did
4. page 63 last paragraph
She describes Taino culture as having lived and thrived "without war, strife, or disease for thousands of years.".
OH? What kind of birth-control were they using to keep their population in check otherwise?
Moreover, she contradicts what she had written on page 61 where she mentions
" a rather warlike group to the south with whom they sometimes fought"
5. page 73
"Nothing like [a horse] had ever set foot on the islands or mainland of the American Continent before 1493.".
This error is more technical in detail than the four above. But, in fact the horse genus (zebras etc) evolved in North America and migrated to the "Old World" before becoming extinct here during an ice-age.
The Spaniards were actually reuniting horse with their continent of origin.
Even though I only caught 5 factual errors, I wonder how many more I didn't notice, not being an historian, myself.
These errors are understandable in light of all the research she had to do and the hurry of meeting a deadline.
And they to not discredit her skill as a writer.
But I would hope that Sterling's material could be checked by historians and scientists for accuracy before publication and corrections could be made to future editions or online offerings


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