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Created in 1539, the Biblioteca Colombina in Sevilla contains over 3000 books. This is but a fraction of one man’s life spent collecting every book on every subject – including antique and modern worlds, science and law, as well as playing cards, pornography, and popular music. Who was Hernando Columbus and how did he achieve this? Set to the backdrop of Christopher Columbus Created in 1539, the Biblioteca Colombina in Sevilla contains over 3000 books. This is but a fraction of one man’s life spent collecting every book on every subject – including antique and modern worlds, science and law, as well as playing cards, pornography, and popular music. Who was Hernando Columbus and how did he achieve this? Set to the backdrop of Christopher Columbus’ paradigm-defining explorations of the New World and beyond, and cutting across events of the Renaissance and Reformation, this book follows Hernando Columbus’ bibliomania and curation of the first ever library of its kind.


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Created in 1539, the Biblioteca Colombina in Sevilla contains over 3000 books. This is but a fraction of one man’s life spent collecting every book on every subject – including antique and modern worlds, science and law, as well as playing cards, pornography, and popular music. Who was Hernando Columbus and how did he achieve this? Set to the backdrop of Christopher Columbus Created in 1539, the Biblioteca Colombina in Sevilla contains over 3000 books. This is but a fraction of one man’s life spent collecting every book on every subject – including antique and modern worlds, science and law, as well as playing cards, pornography, and popular music. Who was Hernando Columbus and how did he achieve this? Set to the backdrop of Christopher Columbus’ paradigm-defining explorations of the New World and beyond, and cutting across events of the Renaissance and Reformation, this book follows Hernando Columbus’ bibliomania and curation of the first ever library of its kind.

30 review for The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books

  1. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth A.G.

    Meticulously researched book about Columbus's voyages and focusing on his illegitimate son, Hernando (Fernando) Colon, whose idea about creating, organizing and categorizing a "universal" library of the world's published items including books, pamphlets, maps, news articles, music, ballads, etc. was a voyage unto its own. Wilson-Lee provides us with the historical background of Hernando Colon's almost maniacal obsession to create his library and to restore the reputation of Columbus's legacy whi Meticulously researched book about Columbus's voyages and focusing on his illegitimate son, Hernando (Fernando) Colon, whose idea about creating, organizing and categorizing a "universal" library of the world's published items including books, pamphlets, maps, news articles, music, ballads, etc. was a voyage unto its own. Wilson-Lee provides us with the historical background of Hernando Colon's almost maniacal obsession to create his library and to restore the reputation of Columbus's legacy which had withered as a result of later New World explorations in his biography of his father entitled Life and Deeds of the Admiral. Edward Wilson-Lee likens Hernando's organizing and categorizing to modern day search engines of the internet in locating information. Hernando's large library was unique in several ways: Hernando personally noted each and every acquired book by listing the date of purchase, the location and how much was paid; his associates prepared summaries of each book and devised a code (heiroglyphic) blueprint of his library; he took advantage of the technological development of the printing press by allocating most of his purchases to printed books instead of manuscripts, thus being able to obtain a sizable number books printed between the years 1453-1500; and he hired full-time librarians who lived on the library premises to ensure their top priority would be to the library. One difficulty in reading this book is the reference to many antiquarian literary and historical names and places; and while these references are perhaps necessary (the author does explain how most relate to his story) these often detailed references digressed from the progression of the story. We all know of Christopher Columbus, but I, for one, was not aware of the life and accomplishments of his illegitimate son, Hernando. Overall, an excellent book for those who love history, books, and libraries

  2. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    I was intrigued--Columbus had a son who created the world's greatest library? Why hadn't we heard about him? What happened to all the books? How did he even embark on such a quest? I had to read this book. Hernando may have been an illegitimate son but in 1502 his father Christopher Columbus took the thirteen-year-old along on his fourth voyage to the New World. Hernando started his life familiar with lands and cultures that most of the world didn't even know existed. The book recounts Columbus's I was intrigued--Columbus had a son who created the world's greatest library? Why hadn't we heard about him? What happened to all the books? How did he even embark on such a quest? I had to read this book. Hernando may have been an illegitimate son but in 1502 his father Christopher Columbus took the thirteen-year-old along on his fourth voyage to the New World. Hernando started his life familiar with lands and cultures that most of the world didn't even know existed. The book recounts Columbus's discoveries and his struggle to maintain his status and share of New World wealth for his heirs. The Admiral of the Ocean reigned as the greatest explorer for only a short time before he was dethroned. He became old news as successive explorers stole attention and acclaim. Spain sought to discredit Columbus as the first to discover the New World, desirous of keeping all the New World wealth. Hernando determined to return and solidify his father's status by writing a book about his father's life--essentially the first biography. The other part of the book is Hernando's thirst for knowledge, his obsession with collecting books of every kind, in every language--even if he couldn't read them. He collected prints and maps and art and ephemera gleaned from small booksellers. He kept lists of his books and when he lost over a thousand books in a shipwreck he knew which ones he needed to replace. He developed methods to catalog and organize the books and to retrieve the information in the books. Hernando was called upon to create a definitive map of the New World so that Spain and Portugal could finalize their territorial rights. He began an exhaustive dictionary but abandoned it knowing he could never finish it. As he traveled across Europe, Hernando came into contact with all the great thinkers whose ideas were rocking the world: Erasmus, Luther, Rabelais, Thomas More. During Hernando's lifetime, Henry was looking to divorce Catherine, Suleiman was conquering the Eastern reaches of Europe, and the Holy Roman Emperor was crowned as the head of church and state. Luther's teaching had fueled the Peasant's Revolt and the anti-authoritarian Anabaptist movement arose. In his later life, Hernando settled down and built his house and perfected his library. His garden was an arboretum containing plants and trees from across the world. Hernando's achievement was remarkable. His goal to order all human knowledge for accessible retrieval was monumental. But after his death, most of his work and library were lost to neglect and time. Through the life of one man, The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books gave me a panoramic view of the 16th c., an overview of the life and achievements of Christopher Columbus, and a biography of his son Hernando. I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Lissa Notreallywolf

    At about page fifty I found myself asking whether this book was fact or fiction because it was so fabulous in the telling. It is described of as a biography of Christopher Columbus's son Hernando Colon, but fails in the usual sense of a biography because it is really the story of a library Colon collected, and his struggle to grasp the new horizons of information. Now that may sound dull, but I had no concept that Columbus made multiple voyages to the New World accompanied by his bastard son. Pe At about page fifty I found myself asking whether this book was fact or fiction because it was so fabulous in the telling. It is described of as a biography of Christopher Columbus's son Hernando Colon, but fails in the usual sense of a biography because it is really the story of a library Colon collected, and his struggle to grasp the new horizons of information. Now that may sound dull, but I had no concept that Columbus made multiple voyages to the New World accompanied by his bastard son. Perhaps my teachers were more interested in our crude drawings of the three ships or did not want to discuss bastards with second graders. And from that point forth there was no mention of Columbus, all of the focus being on the American colonies and how they grew. I hope today's students are getting a bigger picture, like how the imported gold and silver from the new world sparked a huge inflation in Europe, that the diets of Europeans were vastly altered after corn, nightshades and various medicinals were imported. Hernando was at the forefront of that, eventually establish a huge medicinal garden where he lived and housed his enormous library. But the story is more fantastic still- like the time when he was marooned with his raving father in a rude cabin built on the poopdeck of a beached ship, studying the classics they had brought with them. And together they wrote Columbus's Book of Prophesies, a forerunner to American's Manifest Destiny...This is a book where the realities far outstrip what most of us know and is described as a cabinet of curiosities. For me it felt like the world was being knit together because so many bridges between bodies of isolated understanding were constructed. I left it with a better understanding of a truely courageous man who served a family he barely belonged to, or inconsistantly belonged to, the Colons or Columbuses. The sheer scope of his appetite for understanding and experience is humbling. Excellent.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    This is a book that will ruin at least the next 3 books I read... it's so good that nothing else will hold up by comparison! It combines exploration, European Renaissance history, and philosophy of information in one endlessly fascinating package. I never knew about Hernando Colon, Christopher Columbus' impressive son. He saw so much of history... going on his father's 4th journey to the "New" World, traveling all around Europe, meeting with the Pope, working for the Holy Roman Emperor, sailing This is a book that will ruin at least the next 3 books I read... it's so good that nothing else will hold up by comparison! It combines exploration, European Renaissance history, and philosophy of information in one endlessly fascinating package. I never knew about Hernando Colon, Christopher Columbus' impressive son. He saw so much of history... going on his father's 4th journey to the "New" World, traveling all around Europe, meeting with the Pope, working for the Holy Roman Emperor, sailing from Southampton in England (where I've been!), narrowly missing Martin Luther's defense to the Diet of Worms. As Hernando struggled to articulate and organize his library, so much deep discussion is given about the philosophy of information science. How we present information and what information we articulate both reflects and shapes people's access to the information. What did exploration mean to the growing European worldview? How did nascent anthropology embed a Eurocentric ideology? How did the development of libraries and catalogs solidify notions of "authorship"? What were the bookstores of the Renaissance like? What is worthy to be recorded for posterity? How did Columbus use his knowledge of astronomy to get the indigenous people of the Caribbean to help him out of a jam? And on and on... on virtually every page something else fascinating is explored. This book left me deeply impressed with Hernando and smugly proud of my own library.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Ms.pegasus

    A historian, no matter how meticulous, connects with a general audience only when he feels the confidence to invest something of himself. It's a confidence based on erudition, not, as in the case of pareidolia, of temperament or impulse. Although he is referring to his subject Hernando Colón (favorite son of Christopher Columbus), Wilson-Lee seems to also be voicing his own struggles in writing this book when he says: “How does one make a life out of words and paper? Capturing the essence of ano A historian, no matter how meticulous, connects with a general audience only when he feels the confidence to invest something of himself. It's a confidence based on erudition, not, as in the case of pareidolia, of temperament or impulse. Although he is referring to his subject Hernando Colón (favorite son of Christopher Columbus), Wilson-Lee seems to also be voicing his own struggles in writing this book when he says: “How does one make a life out of words and paper? Capturing the essence of another person using the crude tools of narrative is a challenge at the best of times: out of the myriad events a pattern must be discerned, a structure created in which the life makes sense, and words must be found that resurrect the subject, conjuring for the reader the experience of being in their presence.” (p.298) Embedded in this book is an intertwined double biography. Hernando shaped the heroic narrative of Columbus' visionary quest to sail west to find the East in his book The Life and Deeds of the Admiral, published posthumously in 1571, but written and widely circulated during his lifetime as a rebuttal to assaults in the 1530's on the explorer's reputation and accomplishment. Hernando idolized his father, and moreover had motives both of family pride and financial security to defend the father of his childhood memories. Wilson-Lee points out: “...this narrative constructs the character that was needed in the 1530's — when it was clear America was not part of the Asian continent, when the providential character of Columbus' discoveries was less clear, and when the railings of Bartolomé de las Casas had begun to open European eyes to the atrocities of the conquistadores — and bears little resemblance to the Columbus who comes out of his own writings. If anything, the Columbus portrayed in the Life and Deeds of the Admiral — the calm and methodical compiler of information, sympathetic to the ideas of Las Casas — looks a lot more like Hernando himself.” (p.310) Wilson-Lee creates his own narrative arc to tie the lives of these two men together. His framework is the swift passage of a medieval mindset in 1492 to the seeds of secular pragmatism of the Renaissance. Columbus perceived his own life as a crucial initial step toward a divinely ordained triumph of universal Christianity. The entire trajectory of his life was, according to this framework, an expression of God's will. He cites passages from St. Augustine to bolster this claim (p.66). Passages from the book of Isaiah and Psalms were cited as prophecies given new clarity by Columbus' interpretations, interpretations flattering to his royal Spanish patrons as well. It celebrated their expulsion of the Moors, and presaged their role in spreading Christianity to the new lands. This, in turn, would confirm their destined conquest of Jerusalem and the foundation of a universal Christian kingdom ruled by Spain as the final act before the end of Days. By his fourth voyage, Columbus was hinting that Central America was actually Pliny's “Golden Land” — the source of King Solomon's wealth (p.100). The doldrums he encountered on this voyage were God's prohibition against violation of boundaries of the Celestial Paradise. (p.62) These grandiose ideas were presented in his Book of Prophecies. In the space of a mere 50 years from Columbus' first voyage to Hernando's death in 1539, the world had changed, and Hernando avoided reference to The Book of Prophecies in his revisionist biography. Wilson-Lee portrays Hernando as a true creature of the Renaissance. He had an obsessive desire to collect as much of the writing that poured from Gutenberg's invention as possible. He had a fascination for the ephemera that expressed a heady and infinitely varied zeitgeist: pamphlets, parodies, lurid fiction (e.g. The Lusty Andalusian), and street ballads, as well as the writings of Erasmus and volumes on medicine, astronomy, mathematics, hieroglyphics and botany. Wilson-Lee links his subject to a modern perspective that foreshadowed the concerns of The Enlightenment over a century later. A census project of Spain quickly expanded into a comprehensive and dynamic portrayal of both topography and provincial culture. Hernando began by drawing his map against a background of grid lines to promote accuracy. Previously, maps were more akin to examples of illustrative art with features deemed important depicted centrally and enlarged. He dispatched data collectors, instigated methods of verification, and collated the data into his Description of Spain. Layer upon layer of information filled his notes: “a descriptive vocabulary, recording that the land is harsh or barren or fertile. Before long the list of words has multiplied to include pebbled beaches, sweet-water inlets, clear rivers, treacherous hillsides, forests of chestnut and of oak, vineyards, a hot spring that rolls boiling in summer or winter. The abstract space is also invaded by the seasons: the route inland from Sanlúcar, where Hernando had landed with his father in 1504, has lagoons that turn into marshes in winter and must be waded through knee-deep, the Galician town of Porriño has delicious turnips as big as pitchers, and nearby in Sancroy they have a technique for saving their vines by digging up their roots and stems and planting them again the next year.” (p.185) Hernando confronts the organization of his massive collections by devising a series of cataloguing systems. A straight-forward inventory, necessitated by his frequent travels, could stand in for a modern shelf list. The Table of Authors and Sciences was an author/title index. The Book of Materials was an index of subjects using common terms rather than a controlled list of headings. The Book of Epitomes addressed more fully the problem of content, as well as providing the secondary basis for an acquisitions policy. A team of clerks was hired to compress the contents of each book into a summary of some seven or eight lines. The title Wilson-Lee has chosen takes on a special poignancy here. Hernando did actually lose a large part of his collection due to a shipwreck. However, his massive collection and the multiple copies of the catalogues were in a sense shipwrecked by time. The collection was dispersed, neglected and lost. His organizational ideas were left to be reinvented by generations of future librarians and his unique view of structuring information into novel relationships would only fully be realized by the invention of the internet. Wilson-Lee's description of the dawning Renaissance is crowded with details. It is mind-boggling to realize he is covering a mere 50 year period. In that time, Spain would come to be ruled by a man who was only nominally Spanish. The future Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, had been raised by Margaret of Austria and was surrounded by Flemish courtiers. Rome had risen from the ashes under the patronage of Pope Julian II (the "Caesar of the Church", Wilson-Lee wryly notes), only to be sacked once again in 1527 during the struggle between Charles V and the papal backed League of Cognac. Martin Luther posted his 95 theses, and the Ottoman Empire was pressing westward. These passages are filled with allusions to the literati of the day and their writings. While he conveys a sense of the chaos and free-thinking of the period, many of these details will be of interest only to the most dedicated history buff. It was a relief to me when I recognized Luca Pacioli in this crowd. He is a central figure in Double Entry; How the Merchants of Venice Shaped the Modern World, which I had read previously. This was an interesting book, but I have to admit, difficult to read. As suggested by its subtitle, the scope of the book is broad. I have an interest in libraries, but this was only one of the supporting structures of the narrative. Nevertheless, I am glad that I struggled through its pages. NOTES: Exciting discovery: https://www.theguardian.com/books/201...

  6. 4 out of 5

    Nostalgia Reader

    DNF at 43%. I just about got a headache from how tedious these chapters were to read so far, and seeing as I have lots more interesting and fun books lined up at the moment, this is going to have to be a DNF. It felt like a haphazard attempt at very specific history of Renaissance sciences and culture through the life of Hernando. I was hoping for an actual biography of Hernando, focusing heavily on his book and image collecting, with the inevitable brief forays into the culture and ways of the ti DNF at 43%. I just about got a headache from how tedious these chapters were to read so far, and seeing as I have lots more interesting and fun books lined up at the moment, this is going to have to be a DNF. It felt like a haphazard attempt at very specific history of Renaissance sciences and culture through the life of Hernando. I was hoping for an actual biography of Hernando, focusing heavily on his book and image collecting, with the inevitable brief forays into the culture and ways of the times and places. However, this was just so tedious and didn’t hold my attention at all, which made being able to focus on the narrative thread of each chapter almost impossible. The book brings together an abundance of seemingly insignificant observations and bits of history, deeply over describes them, and then tries to tie it together by transitioning to Hernando’s (insignificant) place in it all with a vague connection (“Hernando used this word!” “Hernando was inspired by this one tiny random thing he saw, maybe, what a coincidence possibly.”) It also didn’t help that the first quarter of the book was focused on Hernando’s early life, which with the things the author chooses to focus on, meant it was mainly a biography of Columbus himself during his last two voyages–something I am not interested in at all, and didn’t care for (I knew there would inevitably be some biographical references to him, but not nearly this much). The subject matter had much potential, but the way it was presented was just not at all for me. Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with a free copy to review! (Cross posted on my blog.)

  7. 5 out of 5

    Paul Pessolano

    “The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books, Christopher Columbus, His Son, and the Quest to Build the World’s Greatest Library” by Edward Wilson-Lee, published by Scribner. Category – History Publication Date – March 12, 2019. It is very difficult to assign a rating to this book because it is not intended for the casual reader. The book has been written by a scholar for scholars, or for those who have an overwhelming desire to learn more about Christopher Columbus and his son. It would score probably a 4 “The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books, Christopher Columbus, His Son, and the Quest to Build the World’s Greatest Library” by Edward Wilson-Lee, published by Scribner. Category – History Publication Date – March 12, 2019. It is very difficult to assign a rating to this book because it is not intended for the casual reader. The book has been written by a scholar for scholars, or for those who have an overwhelming desire to learn more about Christopher Columbus and his son. It would score probably a 4 star rating for the scholarly group but only a 1 or 2 star for the casual reader. Christopher Columbus’s illegitimate son, Hernando, played an important role in the life of Columbus and his entire family. He was so enthralled with Columbus that he probably was the sole true biographer of the man. He also spent a lifetime of defending him and his family and attempting to obtain all that was promised to them by the Spanish Government. Hernando had a blazing desire to build the World’s Greatest Library and went to extraordinary means to build it. He not only purchased thousands of books, pamphlets, etc. but he also attempted to catalogue them to make them easier to use. I must admit that I thoroughly enjoyed the book, although I do not consider myself a scholar but do have an interest in the life of Columbus that now extends to his son Hernando.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jerrie (redwritinghood)

    I’m finding this one a little difficult to review. The audiobook narration was often dry, but I also think I was expecting something more about the book collection than was here. That being said, this was a good overview of Columbus’ voyages and his son Hernando Colon’s attempts to preserve his father’s memory and create an organized book collection. There are many other issues explored, though, that took the focus away from the book collection. For example, much was written about Colon’s attemp I’m finding this one a little difficult to review. The audiobook narration was often dry, but I also think I was expecting something more about the book collection than was here. That being said, this was a good overview of Columbus’ voyages and his son Hernando Colon’s attempts to preserve his father’s memory and create an organized book collection. There are many other issues explored, though, that took the focus away from the book collection. For example, much was written about Colon’s attempt to be recognized as part of the Columbus family despite his illegitimate birth. Also, the fighting between Spain and Portugal over ownership of the new lands and the problem of longitude was a big focus in the later parts of the book. I guess the wonderful title made me expect something different from the general historical overview of Colon.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Kathy

    This really is amazing in its depth, breadth with its detailed results of dedicated research as well as the enlightenment it brings to a poorly educated soul (moi!). Yes, I have read some accounts of controversy over Columbus but they were more like newspaper articles here and there. The author Edward Wilson-Lee is a Fellow in English at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, where he teaches medieval and Renaissance literature, thus the perfect candidate to study, gather material and expound clearly This really is amazing in its depth, breadth with its detailed results of dedicated research as well as the enlightenment it brings to a poorly educated soul (moi!). Yes, I have read some accounts of controversy over Columbus but they were more like newspaper articles here and there. The author Edward Wilson-Lee is a Fellow in English at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, where he teaches medieval and Renaissance literature, thus the perfect candidate to study, gather material and expound clearly on this amazing history. I confess that I am taking my exit at the lengthy appendix as my head is spinning with so much information already. The book (kindle format for me) starts out with the most magnificent Index allowing one to click on whatever topic, locale, personage one might be interested in. Lace up your boots for sentences such as this: "The infinity of aesthetics is a sensation that follows from the finite and perfect completeness of the thing we admire, while the other form of representation we are talking about suggests infinity almost physically, because in fact it does not end, nor does it conclude in form. We shall call this representative mode the list, or catalogue." This book is a treasure trove of the early management of information and what the natural son of Christopher Columbus accomplished.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Nina

    "Even fifty thousand books without order is not a library, any more than a crowd of thirty thousand undisciplined men is an army." Christopher Columbus's son Hernando, besides being a bibliophile of the highest order, was also something of a genius. Hernando's obsession coincided with the vast increase in books following the spread of the printing press. The sheer volume surpassed any librarian's ability to remember where a particular tome was located (and you had to be aware of what book you we "Even fifty thousand books without order is not a library, any more than a crowd of thirty thousand undisciplined men is an army." Christopher Columbus's son Hernando, besides being a bibliophile of the highest order, was also something of a genius. Hernando's obsession coincided with the vast increase in books following the spread of the printing press. The sheer volume surpassed any librarian's ability to remember where a particular tome was located (and you had to be aware of what book you were looking for to begin with). Hernando came up with ingenious organizing systems. And unlike other men and institutions of the day, he didn't confine his collecting to just religious or classical material. He also swept up pamphlets, music, maps, prints, books in foreign languages, and books of "heretical" religions. He was his own Library of Congress. He also experienced an incredible life, accompanying his father on a voyage to the New World (father and son were shipwrecked together on an island for more than a year!), and roaming across Europe with royalty. Really interesting stuff in a well-researched book.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Rob

    Ok so maybe more of a 2.5. I can't really say I liked this book, but it had a certain level of quality and academic rigor which placed it far above the typical 2 star book. This tale was extremely dry and, for me, quite boring. I'm into the history of libraries, books, the storage and dissemination of information, etc. This book was much less about that than the subtitle implies it would be. At least 15 percent of the book is about the life of Columbus which is of negative interest to me. And mu Ok so maybe more of a 2.5. I can't really say I liked this book, but it had a certain level of quality and academic rigor which placed it far above the typical 2 star book. This tale was extremely dry and, for me, quite boring. I'm into the history of libraries, books, the storage and dissemination of information, etc. This book was much less about that than the subtitle implies it would be. At least 15 percent of the book is about the life of Columbus which is of negative interest to me. And much of the rest of the book is a biography of his son Hernando which is only of peripheral interest to me. The building of the library and the innovations therein was interesting (though still bone dry) but there wasn't enough detail. This telling jumped around a bit which was distracting in a book which had a hard time holding my attention even when it was very focused. Listening on audio may have been a bad choice, but sometimes the least exciting, most information-heavy volumes are more easily consumed that way. I think this book, though a decent piece of academia, was a mediocre story, at best.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Alex Sarll

    My last unread library book, and one which talks about one of the first libraries we'd recognise, an early adopter of such now-universal conventions as shelving the books by theme and author, of having them spine outwards. Granted, not all of Hernando Columbus' ideas were such winners; OK, none of us are really allowed into libraries anymore, but back in those glorious days when we were, at least we only had to worry about the doorways beeping at us on the way out if something hadn't been issued My last unread library book, and one which talks about one of the first libraries we'd recognise, an early adopter of such now-universal conventions as shelving the books by theme and author, of having them spine outwards. Granted, not all of Hernando Columbus' ideas were such winners; OK, none of us are really allowed into libraries anymore, but back in those glorious days when we were, at least we only had to worry about the doorways beeping at us on the way out if something hadn't been issued properly, whereas in Hernando's ambitious plan, the stock would be protected by the readers only being able to access the shelves through small gaps in a cage, a process I picture as being a bit like handling nuclear fuel rods crossed with feeding time at the zoo. Very 2020, come to think of it. But other bits – he was one of the first to consider pamphlets and other non-respectable writings worthy of inclusion! A concept which some institutions still struggled with well into the late 20th century, if not to this day (mentioning no names, Cambridge University Library). Such an immense thing of which to know the originator, even if it was a broken lineage from then to now. If you're wondering about the surname – yes, Hernando was the bastard and biographer of Christopher, though as Wilson-Lee points out, that name was by no means universal. Indeed, that he was also known as Colon was one of the many things he took as being providential about himself, it meaning 'member', as in, of the Church he planned to spread. It also shares a root with 'colony' and, of course, can be taken to indicate something full of shit. Seriously, I didn't know much about the guy beyond the date, the names of the ships, and the ultimate outcome, but it's noticeable that it's not just from a modern perspective that he comes across as a problem. Even other people merrily engaged on the colonial project mostly couldn't stand the guy, and no wonder – he was quite spectacularly full of himself, as witness the Book of Prophecies he compiled - drawing on everything from the obvious-ish (Isaiah as translated into Latin by St Jerome) to the less so (Seneca's Medea) to demonstrate that the world was about to be united in accordance with the divine scheme, and that he was the only person who could do it. The evidence suggests that Hernando, despite only being 12 at the time, leant his dad a hand with this project, and this theme recurs; Christopher as the madcap doer, Hernando as the organiser trailing in his wake. The worst of it being, Christopher was the sort of narcissistic loon who pulls it off just often enough to keep getting away with it. Seriously, he dominates about the first third of this, and even beyond wider debates about his role in history (which do crop up here, but maybe not as much as they would had it been written a year or two later), just considered as an individual, he's absolutely infuriating. So he steals the limelight for about the first third of the book, and continues to cast a shadow over the rest, which while a shame, is probably unavoidable. Not least because Wilson-Lee is writing a biography of Hernando, whom he claims, albeit with caveats, as the first modern biographer, based on his deeply partial life of his father. And then uses this to interrogate his own project, as a biographer of a biographer: "biography is a literary ruse, a sleight of hand that uses the personal story to say something about the world beyond that person, to arrange (in a sense) the world around them". You can't put everything in a biography, after all, can you, or it's just an unmanageable mess. Though it wouldn't be a surprise to find Hernando attempting biography in that vein, because his projects did tend towards a compendious gigantism which Wilson-Lee calls Herculean, but might be better considered Borgesian or Sisyphean. His survey of Spain, for instance, an early attempt at maps which corresponded to the literal facts on the ground, and an accompanying guidebook, but which then suffered mission creep until a team of subordinates – with redundancy to cross-check and weed out slackers – were supposed to record everything memorable about a place. Which, even now that data storage is considerably smaller and cheaper than it was in the days of folios, is still a project that at some stage tips over from very useful into practically useless. And back then...well. The library, though, the library is what we're here for, or what I am. And it really does seem to have been a forerunner of the information ages to follow, in its innovations and also in its discontents. Hernando hit not only on the shelving system we still know, but on something like a no-longer-quite-modern card catalogue. Yes, he lived in an age of projects for categorising and organising all information, but where most of those systems now read nearly as comically as Borges' pastiche of them (animals belonging to the emperor; animals that have just broken the vase; animals drawn with a fine camel-hair brush), Hernando's does sound more like the godfather of the Dewey Decimal et al. Where problems persisted, they're often ones we still face; not long before I started reading this, I had a conversation about how one stores and categorises downloaded meme images for quick retrieval, which was not far at all from Hernando's struggles to index his collection of prints. Past a certain amount of information, all systems falter, and while Wilson-Lee goes very slightly too trendy vicar in calling Hernando's project a search engine, it's closer to the mark than it has any right to be. His idea of compiling epitomes and distributing the catalogues, even while holding on to his enormous collection of original volumes, is recognisably similar to Google News et al; equally, the issue of junk data hasn't changed that much since you had worthless volumes relying on a title page and a lack of reviews to earn a few dirty sales – pretty much printed clickbait. You can have a 'dead' library now more easily than ever, one in which much is stored but nothing can be located – and yet whatever system you use to order it, you impose preconceptions, favour some associations over others. Hell, I know that even when I'm writing one of these lengthier reviews, struggling to choose which bead to string next to which other bead to make a comprehensible pattern. Even if you're not that into the whole library organisation conundrum bit, though, there's a lot of other stuff here. For instance: hopefully we all know by now that a belief in a flat Earth was not mainstream circa 1500, nor any obstacle to Columbus' voyages. What I didn't know, though, was that some thought one direction of the Atlantic crossing might be trickier than the other, because you were going uphill. Columbus himself had the dimensions of the globe way out, but his main mistake seems to have been thinking that the Earth was shaped much like a boob, with the Earthly Paradise as the nipple. Which, ridiculous as it sounds, was one way of accounting for certain inconsistencies in compass readings; Hernando was perhaps the first instead to hit on the correct interpretation, namely that magnetic north and true north aren't identical. The privations of the voyage, which I've no doubt many would now consider richly deserved, are impressive – but at the same time, Wilson-Lee contextualises it as not that drastically different from the travails of journeys within Europe, where a bridal party of 25-30,000 headed from Spain to Flanders and back could lose somewhere between a half and a third to the winter (which also really puts into perspective both the scale and the risk of even the most lavish pre-Event modern stag dos). There's the intriguing detail, completely new to me, that Henry VII was very nearly the backer and beneficiary of Columbus' expedition – being narrowly beaten to it in an incident which Columbus, like all great bullshitters also a true believer, put down to providence. But how different might things have been? His son might have had more leverage with the Pope, for one thing, if we'd even got to that point. Would South America now speak English too? As was, of course, we ended up with what could be considered peak colonialism, the era of the Treaty of Tordesillas, which not only brazenly ignored the various heathens somehow under the impression that they owned the rest of the world, but also excluded most of Europe, insisting that between them, the countries of Iberia owned everything beyond the continent's bounds. The only question being exactly how that demarcation should be interpreted, and Hernando headed the Spanish delegation to a summit on the question – during which one small boy, suggesting that he knew exactly where they could find the line they were having such difficulty locating, perpetrated possibly history's single finest mooning. That aside, though, it's a dismal business, not least for the unlovely spectacle of the way Spain could, in a single year, both finally win its own long anti-colonialist struggle and then instantly become a major colonial power (not to mention the celebratory bout of ethnic cleansing). An example which I think goes a long way to explain my own unease with the idea that structural power imbalances explain whether or not a given behaviour is fully to be condemned - not least because sometimes those structures can be inverted bloody quickly. What's interesting is how much Hernando himself sits at right angles to the colonial project of which he's such an early and significant part – in later life he'd compare English and Venetian ways to what he'd seen in the Caribbean, not vice versa, because that was what he'd seen first. An upbringing which decentred the European perspective even as it exported it! Meanwhile, the continuing and increasingly inexplicable cheerleading of this plaguey rock's global significance is put nicely into perspective here: only after a discussion of the Arabic texts he collected do we get "the fact that Hernando had almost no books in English, despite his visit to London, is likely because few even of the most learned outside the British Isles understood anything of the language". Similarly, it was just as I was cracking up at Venice's outlandishly convoluted system for electing the Doge that my laugh died as I realised we're in no position to mock how anyone else chooses their leaders. At the end of it all, what are we left with? A figure easier to like than his father, I think any but the most ardent imperialist would say. But one whose great projects mostly came to naught, incomplete and not long outliving him. Something like Alexander weeping that with so many worlds he hadn't even conquered one, but for ideas instead of territory – yet also alloyed with a bathetic dash of Casaubon, or even Simon Quinlank, King Of All Hobbies. Certainly I'm glad to have made his acquaintance. Now what I'd really like to read next is some more about his tutor Peter Martyr, a curious figure in many ways – among other things, he would subsequently become a pioneer in popularising ancient Egypt to modern Europe, and was supposedly the first European to come back from the interior of the Pyramids (reputedly, someone before him had entered, but of course they were never been seen again..).

  13. 5 out of 5

    Gordon

    In 1502, a 13-year old Spanish boy sailed off from the port of Cadiz in Spain with his father, the ship's captain, on a voyage of exploration across the Atlantic, to spend the next two years wandering among the islands of the Caribbean and along the coasts of Central and South America. Along the way, they faced hurricanes, a mutiny, near-starvation, a shipwreck that left them stranded in a lonely bay on the coast of Jamaica for 13 months, and the intrigues of the Spanish governor of Hispaniola. In 1502, a 13-year old Spanish boy sailed off from the port of Cadiz in Spain with his father, the ship's captain, on a voyage of exploration across the Atlantic, to spend the next two years wandering among the islands of the Caribbean and along the coasts of Central and South America. Along the way, they faced hurricanes, a mutiny, near-starvation, a shipwreck that left them stranded in a lonely bay on the coast of Jamaica for 13 months, and the intrigues of the Spanish governor of Hispaniola. The father was Christopher Columbus, on his fourth and final trip to the new world; the boy was his younger son Hernando Colon. In one of the more bizarre episodes of the trip, Columbus had sent a handful of his crew on a risky voyage in a barely seaworthy canoe to make their way to Hispaniola in order to obtain rescue for the rest of the marooned crew. The governor of the island sent a rescue ship, which managed to find the survivors, only to inform them that the governor lacked the resources to rescue them -- and then dropped off a barrel of wine and promptly sailed away! Columbus and crew eventually did get rescued a month later, and still later limped their way back to Spain in 1504, two years after their departure. The trip broke Columbus' health, and he died two years later. Hernando was not the man of action and leader of men that his father was, but he was extraordinary in very different ways. Raised at court along with his older half-brother, he was extremely well educated, had an omnivorously curious mind, and mastered fields as wide-ranging as astronomy, cartography, mathematics, medicine, Latin, Greek, ... and library science. Library science? He was a voracious reader and an even more voracious collector of books, and those books needed to be organized somehow at a time when there was no acceptable method for organizing printed knowledge on this kind of scale. As a member of the Spanish royal court, Hernando roamed the vast European imperial realms of Spain along with the monarch -- first with Ferdinand and Isabella, and later with their grandson Charles V, whose accession to the throne of the Holy Roman Empire and possession of the enormous holdings of the Hapsburgs in Italy, Austria, Germany and the Netherlands meant that Hernando's travels became ever more wide-ranging. He even took time off to spend some years at the Vatican, to plead a complex legal case of his brother before an ecclesiastical court, while attending university lectures whenever he could from the great scholars of his day. Wherever he went, he sought out intellectuals, artists ... and book-sellers. How he managed to finance his bibliomania is a bit of a mystery, as his income seemed highly dependent on the whims of the monarch, but since he was interested in acquiring little else by way of material possessions, he somehow made it work. Hernando was fortunate to live in the decades immediately following the invention of the printing press by Gutenberg in the mid-1400's, which was following by a great outpouring of works previously only available to the fortunate few who could afford the immense expense of acquiring books painfully copied by hand, one at a time. In addition to ancient works, new works also poured from the presses, since this was the height of the Renaissance and the dawn of the Protestant Reformation. And of course, he had both the means and the opportunity to acquire these newly printed books, travelling as he did to some of the great publishing centers of Europe such as Rome, Venice, Basel, Nuremberg, Strassburg, and so on. Unlike many book collectors, Hernando was not a narrow specialist in his range of his interests -- he wanted to create a universal library, and even included books in non-European languages, notably Arabic, and ephemera such as pamphlets and prints that were scorned by other collectors. Eventually, his book collection in Seville where he finally made his home reached somewhere around 15-20,000 volumes, plus several thousand prints. His collection was the world's largest private library of its day. In addition to his court duties -- as a geographer, diplomat and courtier -- Hernando was also a writer. Some of his writing projects, such as a geography of Spain and a set of abstracts ("Epitomes") of the books in his collection, had little lasting significance. Some were bizarre, such as the Book of Prophecies, mainly written by his father but with contributions from the teenage Hernando, that sought to find in the Bible passages which foreshadowed Columbus's achievements, and therefore validated them as being divinely ordained. But his most enduring contribution was a biography of his father, which remains the most accurate accurate record of Columbus's life. Since no one had his intimate knowledge of his father, and no one else had access to such a trove of historical documents such as logs and maps relating to his father's explorations, his biography is the definitive source for scholars who followed him in later centuries. The author of this biography of Hernando Colon, an English historian of medieval and Renaissance literature, seems himself to be as omnivorously curious as his subject. And like his subject, Edward Wilson-Lee is meticulous in drawing on original sources, and is informed by extensive travels to the countries covered by Hernando. He makes much of the contributions that Hernando made to the organizing of knowledge, comparing him to a sort of one-man Google of his day. Unfortunately, the great library amassed by Hernando never truly became the kind of enduring knowledge archive open to the world's scholars that he hoped, because his nephew and heir had little interest in his collection. It eventually passed to a monastery in Seville, and then to the Cathedral of Seville, where what remains of it resides today. There, many of its volumes, especially those by Protestant authors such as Luther, fell victim to book-burning Inquisitors at the time of the Counter-Reformation. In general, the collection was largely neglected for centuries, eventually being further reduced by pilfering and the ravages of time to just a quarter of its original size -- to a still considerable 4000 volumes. On the whole, Hernando Colon remains a sort of fascinating historical oddity, an intellectual in a time of great cultural and religious turmoil and warfare, who roamed widely, sat at the tables of both the mighty and the learned, and pursued his passionate curiosity wherever he went. If you enjoy books of the historical buffet variety, you will find A Catalog of Shipwrecked Books a very satisfying read.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jim Razinha

    I received a eGalley of this from the publisher through Edelweiss. The subtitle order is Columbus, Hernando (his son) and lastly, the library. And what you get is a lot of Columbus, nearly as much Hernando, other contemporary hsitories of the various crowns and explorers, and a fraction by comparison about the library Hernando assembled. In reading this, I kept asking myself how much was speculation and how much had some basis in history. More history than I thought, as the endnotes are detailed I received a eGalley of this from the publisher through Edelweiss. The subtitle order is Columbus, Hernando (his son) and lastly, the library. And what you get is a lot of Columbus, nearly as much Hernando, other contemporary hsitories of the various crowns and explorers, and a fraction by comparison about the library Hernando assembled. In reading this, I kept asking myself how much was speculation and how much had some basis in history. More history than I thought, as the endnotes are detailed and extensive and provide an excellent collateral backstory to the main narrative. Unfortunately, an electronic interface is clumsy (see note below) and their value is hard won for the poor reader. While the lives of Columbus and his illegitimate second son are fascinating, I wanted to know more about the library. One get slightly meaty bits and pieces scattered through the story of Hernando's acquisitional pursuits, a short passage of the tragedy that prompted the title (1,637 precious books found and purchased on a quest of the Continent went down with a ship in 1622 that was bringing them to Spain), and at last a detailed description of the makeup and size of what was the largest private library to date in the penultimate chapter and the epilogue. I knew of Columbus's religious proclivities, but wasn't aware that he wrote something called the Book of Prophesies and my notes at this passage were "This just took a weird turn.":It is mesmerizing to think that not only were the revelations of The Book of Prophesies being honed even as father and son explored new reaches of the western Atlantic, but, even more astonishingly, that the book's predictions about Tarshish, Ophir, and Kittim and their place in providential history meant they were in effect carrying with them a guidebook to unknown lands. The prophetic manuscript functioned like a map in reverse, providing them with landmarks that needed to be arranged on the landscape they were about to witness.Apart from weird, that's rather absurd. Columbus wrote the thing! And was astonished by it's predictions? (The three names mentioned are either places or minor biblical characters descended from the Noah guy...apparently not exactly clear.) Hernando was innovative in cataloguing his huge library, and even tried to address a serious problem of indexing. Wilson-Lee says "Searching an index is all but useless unless you know the term you are looking for, and in the instructions Hernando left for his assistants he directed them to use the most common term for the subject in question, as well as putting it under more than one heading when in doubt." Obvious, but often unstated...all but useless unless you know the term. Yep. The story drags at points when it waxes academic, but Wilson-Lee does keep the interest up with a lot of information. A note on the reading: in my PDF copy, the notes were not hyperlinked, which present challenges. The book would be better read as a hard copy, as the text is definitely enhanced by the notes and "flipping" back and forth is burdensome in an ereader. A note to the editor: a couple of times the phrase "In the event..." leads sentences that don't syntactically jibe. Example, page 83 in my ecopy: "In the event, the new governor, Nicolas de Ovando - [...] - refused to oblige Columbus in any way and was even deaf to his pleas to be let into the harbor to shelter from the vast storm that was collecting over the Caribbean Sea."

  15. 4 out of 5

    Carl Waluconis

    All bibliophiles will love this extraordinary story of Hernando Colon who amassed a collection of over 5,000 books. He traveled through Europe meeting and purchasing. This included meeting authors of the time such as Erasmus and Thomas More. Hernando included buying prints and various illustrations. He included everything that offered new ways of thinking. His path crossed Durer's in his own travels, and Hernando sought out those prints. There were other collections at the time, but Hernando was All bibliophiles will love this extraordinary story of Hernando Colon who amassed a collection of over 5,000 books. He traveled through Europe meeting and purchasing. This included meeting authors of the time such as Erasmus and Thomas More. Hernando included buying prints and various illustrations. He included everything that offered new ways of thinking. His path crossed Durer's in his own travels, and Hernando sought out those prints. There were other collections at the time, but Hernando was different in that he included popular printings of tracts ad pictures, the equivalent in these times of saving comic books as they were first printed. He included writings in many different languages. As he did so, he searched for ways to organize these collections, cataloguing as he went from city to city in Renaissance Europe. At one point, most of the collection sank with the boat that carried it. Hernando still had the list, which he called the "Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books ". Hernando was different from his father in many ways, but he shared his determination. Hernando just continued collecting and cataloguing. Hernando had beeb there when his father arrived back after his first voyage, and then accompanied him on subsequent voyages. His extraordinary collecting started watching his father who gathered in his "Book of Prophecies" quotations and material that foretold his voyages being monumental, even mystical in their bringing the Christian God (and the Spainish Empire) to this new land. Columbus was not always welcome back to Spain as described in this history, and had to struggle to keep his family's claim to wealth from the voyages. Hernando picked up this struggle after his father's death, and eventually wrote a biography that definitely told only part of the story, but which eventually shaped the way Columbus was seen for many centuries. Perhaps the most important theme in this book was Hernando's efforts to organize the library. He made some bad decisions about separating the languages, which had consequences as to how other knowledges were perceived in Europe. But Hernando eventually created what amounted to cards for each volume with various pieces of information about them, including summaries (Book of Epitomes). This was a first kind of card catalogue, and as described by Wilson-Lee, what he wanted was a data base and search engine. Hernando lived in the thick of things in incredibly exciting and tumultuous times for Europe and the world. There are many more historial figures brought to life by the author, some of whom I had not previously heard of. Columbus's story is still being hashed out. The fate of Hernando's fabulous library I will leave for you to read in this absorbing book.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Al Berry

    An okay book that tries to ride two horses; Columbus and his voyages of exploration as well as his son’s efforts at building a library. It was interesting and I learned a lot, but it wasn’t really a cohesive book.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Debra Belmudes

    A very interesting look at the life of Hernando Colon, the illegitimate son of Christopher Columbus. From his childhood, Colon was fascinated with making lists ... from common everyday things to the strange plants and peoples he encountered on his voyages with his father. He began collecting a massive collection of books from all over the world and again, applied his skills of listmaking and categorizing in an effort to catalog his book collection. Colon would spend his life re-doing and expandin A very interesting look at the life of Hernando Colon, the illegitimate son of Christopher Columbus. From his childhood, Colon was fascinated with making lists ... from common everyday things to the strange plants and peoples he encountered on his voyages with his father. He began collecting a massive collection of books from all over the world and again, applied his skills of listmaking and categorizing in an effort to catalog his book collection. Colon would spend his life re-doing and expanding his cataloging efforts in addition to many other duties in service to the Spanish government. All the while, he pursued long-winded court cases to reclaim the titles and riches due to Columbus as his share of the spoils of his travels. In the end, Colon bequeathed his beloved library to a relation who cared nothing for book. Eventually, the books have disappeared or were damaged and the library of over 25,000 books is now reduced to 4,000 volumes. I also found it interesting that Columbus was not treated well by the Spanish government after his death, the numerous lawsuits meant to deny Columbus and his heirs the rich fruits of his labors as a ship's captain and explorer ... even going so far as to claim that Columbus's discoveries were not original and had been made centuries before by others.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Karima

    Astounding! Who knew? Not I. This is a biography of Hernando Colon (1488-1539), the illegitimate son of Christopher Columbus (1451-1506). Hernando's mission was to collect every printed material he could get his hands on. This included not only books but music scores, maps, pamphlets, images, letters, playbills, street postings, even a menu from a feast thrown by Pope Leo X featuring figs in muscatel, cockerel testicles and roasted peacocks “sewn back into their skins, to appear living.” This book Astounding! Who knew? Not I. This is a biography of Hernando Colon (1488-1539), the illegitimate son of Christopher Columbus (1451-1506). Hernando's mission was to collect every printed material he could get his hands on. This included not only books but music scores, maps, pamphlets, images, letters, playbills, street postings, even a menu from a feast thrown by Pope Leo X featuring figs in muscatel, cockerel testicles and roasted peacocks “sewn back into their skins, to appear living.” This book is a treasure trove of Europe in the Age of the Explorers.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    History, books, catalogues, indexes, biography - all in one book! I enjoyed the mixture of all of these, particularly as I previously knew nothing about Hernando, the son of Christopher Columbus. The scene setting, political, geographical and intellectual was very evocative, moving around some of the most powerful European cities and courts of the early 1500s.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Pamela

    The book was frustrating at times. It meandered and wasn't focused enough. In the places where the focus was retained, such as on Hernando Colón and his some of his projects, the book was fascinating. But it wandered, and at times seemingly for no reason, although occasionally it did add useful context to the biography. Hernando Colón was the infamous Christopher Columbus's younger son. He also wrote a biography of his father which has been the vital book that created the legacy of Columbus. Yet The book was frustrating at times. It meandered and wasn't focused enough. In the places where the focus was retained, such as on Hernando Colón and his some of his projects, the book was fascinating. But it wandered, and at times seemingly for no reason, although occasionally it did add useful context to the biography. Hernando Colón was the infamous Christopher Columbus's younger son. He also wrote a biography of his father which has been the vital book that created the legacy of Columbus. Yet Hernando's life and projects were quite intriguing: developed a classification system for his huge collection of books and images, his map making, and the collecting of detailed statistics about the towns and cities found throughout Spain. Hernando traveled quite extensively, beginning with being with his father on one of the voyages to the New World. When he was older everywhere he went he bought books. Once he got going he went on such a book buying spree that he purchased 700 books in month, then 200 in 3 days, then over the next month bought around 1,000. Oh the joy of buying books! Hernando would have loved Goodreads. He would have loved the modern library classification systems. He would have loved the internet. One of his goals seemed to be the accumulation of all knowledge and to have it organized in a searchable manner. The problem with the book was it was too broad. I also felt that if I was more seeped in the history of the late 1400's, early 1500's I would have a better time with the book, particularly in the beginning chapters. Despite this, I'm happy to have read this book. Book rating: 3.5 stars Thanks to Scribner and NetGalley for an uncorrected electronic advance review copy of this book.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Carlos

    3.5 stars for this book. The parts that dealt with Christopher Columbus and his son were very descriptive and at moments very well researched. The thing that I didn't like was that I felt the author expanded too much in different topics that while helped give historical context to what was being said , it also felt like it was too much and made the reading of the book a little bit morose. This was my first nonfiction book in a while so I might have been a little bit rusty (even though I saw that 3.5 stars for this book. The parts that dealt with Christopher Columbus and his son were very descriptive and at moments very well researched. The thing that I didn't like was that I felt the author expanded too much in different topics that while helped give historical context to what was being said , it also felt like it was too much and made the reading of the book a little bit morose. This was my first nonfiction book in a while so I might have been a little bit rusty (even though I saw that a lot of reviewers agree with me.)

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jeimy

    I disagree with the description of this book. Specifically, the part that reads, "this book follows Hernando Columbus’ bibliomania and curation of the first ever library of its kind." That statement should explain that the book uses Columbus's story as a tree trunk from which the ideas for chapters branch out. While the author did not spend as much time talking about the library as I had hoped, the book still painted a fascinating picture of what life was like at that time. I disagree with the description of this book. Specifically, the part that reads, "this book follows Hernando Columbus’ bibliomania and curation of the first ever library of its kind." That statement should explain that the book uses Columbus's story as a tree trunk from which the ideas for chapters branch out. While the author did not spend as much time talking about the library as I had hoped, the book still painted a fascinating picture of what life was like at that time.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Karna Converse

    Heavily researched, action-packed story about Hernando Colón, his collection of literary works, and the library system he developed When he was thirteen years old, Hernando joined his father, Christopher Columbus, on his fourth and final voyage to the New World (1502-1504). Prior to this, he served as a page in Prince Juan's household and was tasked with keeping the household books, ordering the prince's possession in a series of lists. That experience, and Hernando's continuation of a project h Heavily researched, action-packed story about Hernando Colón, his collection of literary works, and the library system he developed When he was thirteen years old, Hernando joined his father, Christopher Columbus, on his fourth and final voyage to the New World (1502-1504). Prior to this, he served as a page in Prince Juan's household and was tasked with keeping the household books, ordering the prince's possession in a series of lists. That experience, and Hernando's continuation of a project his father had titled "Book or collection of auctoritates (authoritative writings), sayings, opinions and prophecies concerning the need to recover the Holy City and Mount Zion, and the finding and conversion of the islands of the Indies and of all peoples and nations" laid the foundation for a lifetime of extensive travel and learning. By age 33, Hernando owned one of the greatest private literary collections in Europe—more than 6,000 books, pamphlets, prints, and pieces of music. More impressive, however, is the organizational structure he created that turned his collection into a universal library—one that housed related books together and allowed for sorting books by their differences. "Hernando's greatest ambition," writes Wilson-Lee,"—to create a repository of all the written knowledge of the world, searchable by key word, navigable through short summaries, an sortable by different criteria—represents an extraordinary premonition of the world of the internet, the World Wide Web, search engines, and databases that was to emerge almost five centuries later." Wilson-Lee supplements his heavily footnoted, detailed accounts of Hernando's travels with illustrations and summaries of the materials he collected and (historians assume) read—inviting today's reader to walk the streets of 1500 Europe and to sail across the oceans toward the discoveries of the New World. The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books was chosen for me by my local bookseller as part of a mystery bag purchase. She chose well!

  24. 5 out of 5

    Daniel

    This review originally published in Looking FOr a Good Book. Rated 4.5 of 5 Hernando Colón had a passion for books and a vision for an organized library. Hernando Colón was also Christopher Columbus's illegitimate son. Author/researcher Edward Wilson-Lee does a tremendous, detailed job of tracking down this story and getting in-depth on Hernando's story. While the name Christopher Columbus is known by every American school child, we know so little about him (other than what every fourth-grader lear This review originally published in Looking FOr a Good Book. Rated 4.5 of 5 Hernando Colón had a passion for books and a vision for an organized library. Hernando Colón was also Christopher Columbus's illegitimate son. Author/researcher Edward Wilson-Lee does a tremendous, detailed job of tracking down this story and getting in-depth on Hernando's story. While the name Christopher Columbus is known by every American school child, we know so little about him (other than what every fourth-grader learns in our white-washed history books), so just learning about this child sets us up for a number of fascinating insights. While Hernando is an illegitimate child, Columbus still took him along on his fourth voyage to the New World (Hernando would have been thirteen at the time). This could well have been the spark that led Colón to a life of pursuing knowledge. He searched for books, in all languages, and he collected maps and art portfolios, searching through small booksellers' collections on his varied trips. This led to his organization a catalog of his books - a way for him to determine whether or not a particular volume or work of art was already in his collection. It was because of this new method of cataloging that when a shipwreck occurred and Colón lost thousands of books at sea, he knew which ones needed to be replaced. And it was because of his vast collection of maps, as well as his familiarity with his father's travels, that Colón was asked to step in to create a map - the final, authoritative map - of the New World so that Portugal and Spain could once and for all settle on territorial rights. But it was at this time that Hernando was also quite familiar with his father's fall from grace and standing - how Spain tried to take his discovery away from him - to honor other explorers, which would also take away the inheritance of Columbus's legitimate heirs. This book is amazing. I think I learned more history and more sociology and more library science through this one book than I have in a very long time. In many respects, the book has more history/biography about Columbus than I was hoping for. It was definitely a great lesson in history - I'd had no idea that Columbus lost so much favor - but what attracted me to the book was the idea of the development of the early library. These moments in the book ... the revelation of Colón's passion for books and his search to constantly improve his library ... were not only the reason I started this, but the best moments of the book. Looking for a good book? If you like history, if you like learning something very new about something very old, if the history of the printed word fascinates you, then The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books by Edward Wilson-Lee is a book you really ought to read. I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Ann

    This book is partly a biography of Hernando Columbus (youngest son of Christopher Columbus), partly a potted history of the discovery of the New World, partly a summary of the history and artistic history of the Renaissance, and partly an exploration of what I can only call "knowledge science" in the 16th century. That is because Hernando Columbus' life took him all over the world : to the New World (on his father's Fourth and last voyage), to Rome (for a court case involving his brother's illeg This book is partly a biography of Hernando Columbus (youngest son of Christopher Columbus), partly a potted history of the discovery of the New World, partly a summary of the history and artistic history of the Renaissance, and partly an exploration of what I can only call "knowledge science" in the 16th century. That is because Hernando Columbus' life took him all over the world : to the New World (on his father's Fourth and last voyage), to Rome (for a court case involving his brother's illegitimate child), all over Spain (following the wandering court of the Reyes Catolicos), the Low Countries and Germany (with Charles V), to France, Venice.... One of Hernando Columbus' lifelong ambitions was to solidify his father's legacy, both in the scientific and political sense, and in the pecuniary sense, striving to gain his share of the wealth of the New World as promised to the Columbus dynasty. The other, which took on more and more importance as he grew older, was to amass and organize knowledge. Collecting books, prints, ephemera, sheet music, botanical specimens.. .was just the beginning. More pressing was the question of how to organize all that knowledge. And so he experimented with catalogs, indexes, epitomes (summaries), maps, organizing principles. Much of what he did seems quaint today, simply because we've all grown up with access to more information than we can keep in our heads (or in our personal libraries). But this was the time when the printing press was still new, and where the explosion of printed materials posed totally new challenges to the learned men of the day. I enjoyed the book, but I sometimes had trouble following its course. Sometimes we were in the murky relationships within the Columbus family, sometimes the author led us into the conquest of the New World, then we were in the political maneuvers of Charles V, then we were getting a peek into the Vatican and the Reformation. I had perhaps expected this book to be more about books, and maybe I read the non-bibliophilia-related parts too fast....but my impression was that of a book whose author had padded his main topic with a lot of peripheral information. Interesting, yes, relevant, probably... but not a totally successful mix.

  26. 4 out of 5

    William Schram

    Hernando Colón was a man obsessed. He wanted to create something akin to the Internet back in the Age of Sail. While I say the Internet, it would be more accurate to say that Colón wanted to build a complete repository of knowledge. The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books is written by Edward Wilson-Lee and recounts the hefty task that lay ahead of Colón and his eventual failure due to age and various misfortunes. What was Colón’s plan you may ask? It was nothing less than the gathering of every piece Hernando Colón was a man obsessed. He wanted to create something akin to the Internet back in the Age of Sail. While I say the Internet, it would be more accurate to say that Colón wanted to build a complete repository of knowledge. The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books is written by Edward Wilson-Lee and recounts the hefty task that lay ahead of Colón and his eventual failure due to age and various misfortunes. What was Colón’s plan you may ask? It was nothing less than the gathering of every piece of material ever written in one place. In that sense, I can call it a Library of Alexandria or a House of Wisdom situation. Now the other thing is that Colón had no qualms with putting bawdy and irreverent pieces of literature into his library. This led to some predictable outcomes after he died. Until then, the main issue that I could see would be getting the space to gather all of this material and the money to fund his buying sprees. With the increase in the number of books available due to the development of the Printing Press there was just too much to buy. Colón’s other breakthrough was the development of a system of organizing his books so that he could sort them by any means. This would be extensible and allow for any number of items. From the title and the blurb of this book, I did not know what to expect. I got it from the Library so I knew that it was cataloged under Generalities and Bibliography from the Dewey Decimal number. So basically the book is about Colón’s library. As for the Christopher Columbus part, Colón was rumored to be the illegitimate son of Columbus. So all in all, this book was well done in bringing this story to light.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Valerie Kyriosity

    This started off really exciting with stuff about Hernando Columbus's library, then went on for-ev-er about boring stuff like exploration and battles and life-and-death adventure. But when it finally got back to the books, it was great! 😉 Christopher was a bit of a megalomaniac. His older, legitimate son was a bit of a jerk. And Hernando, the younger, illegitimate boy, was more than a bit of a bibliophile. He made a pretty impressive stab at assembling a truly comprehensive library at a time whe This started off really exciting with stuff about Hernando Columbus's library, then went on for-ev-er about boring stuff like exploration and battles and life-and-death adventure. But when it finally got back to the books, it was great! 😉 Christopher was a bit of a megalomaniac. His older, legitimate son was a bit of a jerk. And Hernando, the younger, illegitimate boy, was more than a bit of a bibliophile. He made a pretty impressive stab at assembling a truly comprehensive library at a time when printing was young and the goal was almost, if not quite achievable. To create a from-scratch system for organizing human knowledge was really quite the intellectual feat. To even conceive of such a thing takes a certain sort of genius. We also have Hernando to thank for the basic modern design of the bookcase with rows of volumes lined up vertically side by side. And unlike others of the era who focused on Important Works, Hernando saw the importance of collecting ephemera -- the printed bits and bobs that give a clearer glimpse of daily life. Sadly, Hernando's legacy didn't get the TLC it deserved after his death...much as he didn't get the TLC he deserved during his life (did I mention his brother was a jerk?). But enough remains of his collection and his writing to earn him a place of honor in the heart of every book lover.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Rhiannon Johnson

    Read my full review on my blog: https://ivoryowlreviews.blogspot.com/... **I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review** I now have a special place in my heart for Hernando Colón. His collections and organizational systems are totally mind-boggling and absolutely fascinating. As a "natural son" (not the product of a legitimate union) Colón could "win legitimacy only by showing himself to be his father's son in spirit." Colón strove to achieve this distinction Read my full review on my blog: https://ivoryowlreviews.blogspot.com/... **I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review** I now have a special place in my heart for Hernando Colón. His collections and organizational systems are totally mind-boggling and absolutely fascinating. As a "natural son" (not the product of a legitimate union) Colón could "win legitimacy only by showing himself to be his father's son in spirit." Colón strove to achieve this distinction by accumulating massive amounts of written works, printed images, music, and plants to create a collection that would far surpass any other collection of its time. Colón also kept meticulous details in multiple ledgers and created complex organizational systems. This book dives into some of Colón's collections, examines particular items in the collection, offers insight into why some items were especially important to Colón and analyzes why some were never discussed by the collector. This book is very dense and I wouldn't recommend it to the average book lover but if you're ready to go on a deep dig then this is the book for you!

  29. 5 out of 5

    Christopher

    An astonishing and wonderful account of the life of Christopher Columbus’s youngest son, Hernando, whose ambition to create a library of all the knowledge in the world, organized and searchable, anticipated modern libraries and databases by five centuries. Although his collection of around 20,000 items has mostly been lost, it represented one of the high points of Renaissance humanism in its breadth and scope. Highly recommended!

  30. 5 out of 5

    David

    While I didn't agree with all of the author's conclusions regarding Christopher Columbus, I found the material covering Hernando's efforts to collect, catalogue, and organize his library fascinating. I wish more of the book was devoted to this subject; I love history, and the time period covered in this book was interesting, but it seemed like there was more space devoted to other history than to Hernando himself, and specifically his library. While I didn't agree with all of the author's conclusions regarding Christopher Columbus, I found the material covering Hernando's efforts to collect, catalogue, and organize his library fascinating. I wish more of the book was devoted to this subject; I love history, and the time period covered in this book was interesting, but it seemed like there was more space devoted to other history than to Hernando himself, and specifically his library.

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