This book gets a few ratings of ‘biography’, and… yes, actually, this is a fairly decent biography of Fernão de Magalhães, or Ferdinand Magellan, as it goes into his background and life as a whole. However, it is primarily about the Armada de Molucca and the circumnavigation of the world.

As a biography, it is more of a tragedy, as Magellan, a determined and ambitious man, is repeatedly snubbed by the King of Portugal, and Magellan goes to Spain with his plan to go west to get to the East. However, he is never truly trusted by the powers that be, and his authority over his five-ship fleet critically undermined before it even leaves port. Worse, Magellan himself doesn’t seem to have been a great leader, never developing a large degree of trust with most of his subordinates.

But he can rise to the occasion in a crisis. After losing two ships to a mutiny, with the other two standing off neutral, he manages to reassert authority over four ships with just the resources of the crew on his flagship. But outside of crisis, his performance can be erratic, and this shows in the very inconsistent dealings with the natives of the Philippines, where he puts himself into a hopeless situation and gets killed.

The coverage of the rest of the voyage is no less detailed than that of the first half, as Bergreen has collated as many primary sources as he could to assemble the full story of the first journey around the world. This mostly means two surviving accounts written during the voyage, but there are of course other accounts from crew members written afterward. Some of these have never appeared in English, and Bergreen introduces them for the first time in English here. He also occasionally makes use of later sources for descriptions of what an area they went through was like.

Despite this attention to detail, this is still a ‘popular’ account of the expedition, and extremely readable. Sadly, as such, it is deficient in maps. In fact, there’s no maps showing the details of his route at all. There is a good section of plates, but in the Kindle edition this is unhelpfully stuck behind the index, and I had no idea it existed until I started flipping through the end to check for maps.