The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 12 Mar 2019

Member Reviews

Reading this book is truly a delightful learning experience. The author, Edward Wilson-Lee, brings book collecting at its earliest, to life. By introducing Hernando Colon, son of Christopher Columbus, all bibliophiles find their roots. The original book hoarder with a plan, he single-handedly gathers documents, maps, books, papers, songs, etc to establish a collection of the world’s knowledge. 
The illegitimate son of Columbus was introduced to adventure and questing at the age of 13 when he accompanied his father on the fourth of Columbus’ exploration of the “New World.” From there the fire was lit. Hernando became not only the keeper of his father’s memory and heritage, but the accumulator of his own ‘new world,” that of collective world knowledge at the street level. He gathered anything of interest or intellectual value in his estimation. While doing so he encountered the question of how to organize this mass of documentation and set about devising a means to catalog and retrieve the information. His book lists were exhaustive and aided him in determining what needed to be replaced when he lost one thousand books in a shipwreck.
Hernando was a true man of the Renaissance spirit, accomplishing many noteworthy efforts in his lifetime. He wrote the story of his father’s life, one of the first biographies. He was called upon to map the New World for purposes of dividing it among the countries claiming rights. He undertook a dictionary of all terms, but abandoned that at some point. His later years were spent collecting and cultivating plants from around the world. 
All bibliophiles will appreciate the depth and detail provided by Wilson-Lee in celebrating the many accomplishments of Hernando Colon. What a unique and rewarding individual revealed through this thoroughly researched book. Although the topic is scholarly, it reads like a true page turner!

Thank you to NetGalley for the digital copy. In return I have provided my unbiased opinion of the book.
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I received this work from NetGalley. This was a well-told and fascinating history; I think it probably could have benefitted from cutting 50-75 pages, it did definitely feel as though it was dragging by the end. Columbus's story definitely cuts a little too close to home, but it certainly made me want to visit Seville.
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This is a good book for history fans of the 15th and 16th century. Also for any dedicated library science nerd who wants to explore early library cataloging systems.  

Personally I thought the book wasn't narrowly focused enough. The book was frustrating for me at times. It meandered, and in the places where the focus was retained, on Hernando Colón and 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. Someone seeped in the history of that time period would get more out of this book than myself. 

Hernando's life and projects were quite intriguing: he 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! 

I didn't rate the book higher as I found it be too broad. 3.5 stars
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I wanted to love this book and for the most part I enjoyed it a lot and I learned alot I didn't know. However, it was a bit slow at times and seemed to drag on. I would recommend this book to fans history. 

I would like to thank Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a copy of this book free of charge. This is my honest and unbiased opinion of it.
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Loved this book and can't wait to recommend it to my greatest (and not greatest) narrative non-fiction readers. So interesting and good. Loved it! Thank you!
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Edward Wilson-Lee has chosen to gift readers with the story of Hernando Colon, the illegitimate son of Christopher Columbus.  This book is so much more than just Hernando's story. It is also the story of what happened to Christopher Columbus after the voyage we all learned about in school.  Hernando accompanied Columbus on several voyages, and wrote a biography of his father. Hernando had a mission to create a fantastic library (he succeeded in 1539). 
I found the book a slow read, but so worthwhile.  I appreciated this addition to history and the complexity of Hernando's life and travels.  Mr. Wilson reveals the secrets of the amazing library Hernando set out to gather.  Colon was a true adventurer, and the story of his life is interwoven with the tales of fantastic books, their subjects and authors, as well as music, plants and artifacts.  The bibliophile in me is in awe of the collection, between 10 and 20,000 books all carefully documented - so beneficial when he lost over 1,00 in a shipwreck, he had a list of what to replace!  
The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books is by no means an easy read.  There is a wealth of information, and I found it easiest to absorb in small sections.  This would make an excellent book discussion selection, as there are so many avenues to explore and discuss. 
I received my copy through NetGalley and am under no obligation to the publisher.
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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!
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DNF at 43%. 2 star rating based on the 43% I did read.

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.
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The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books
Christopher Columbus, His Son, and the Quest to Build the World's Greatest Library

by Edward Wilson-Lee


Biographies & Memoirs

Pub Date 12 Mar 2019

I am reviewing a copy of The Catalogue if Shipwrecked Books through Scribner and Netgalley:

This book tells the story of the first visionary of the print age.  A man who saw the great expansion of knowledge and information brought on by the invention of the printing press.  This man would help to change the landscape of thought and society.  This man also happened to be Christopher Columbus illegitimate son Hernando Colon.

Hernando Colon wanted to do more for exploration than even his Father Christopher Columbus did, he not only wants to visit these places, he wanted to build a library that covered all books in all languages, and all subjects.  In this quest he spent his life traveling first with his Father in 1502 where he survived being Shipwrecked in Jamaica, where there was a bloody mutiny and later in Europe where he scoured bookstores at the epicenter of printing.  Hernando was s true renaissance man.  

In this well researched biography the author tells the story of the first genius of the print age.

I give The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books five out of five stars!

Happy Reading!
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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.
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Something for the history connoisseur: a read which peels away the layers of what we all think we know to give insight into the world beneath. Wonderfully researched and written with the pacing of a novel.
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Looking for a quirky micro-history to put on your nightstand?  The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books tells the tale of a 16thcentury visionary who dreamed of collecting everything in print in a single library.  And, because fact is often stranger than fiction, it just so happens, that that man was the illegitimate son of Christopher Columbus. 

Hernando Colón traveled to the “new world” with his father, having a few of his own adventures along the way.  But fueled by a strong desire for collecting and order, he obsessively purchased books and other printed material (sheet music, shipping manifests, pamphlets, and even porn), dreaming of collecting everything in one great library to rival the lost library at Alexandria.  Necessarily, the greatest challenge for Colón was the question of how to index the vast amount of material in a way that made the collection useful and searchable.

After his father’s death, it was Colón’s collection that helped to define the Christopher Columbus legacy.  The fact that the son had copies of contracts, shipping inventory and other contemporary manuscripts helped him to secure Columbus’s place in history as well as his claim on the spoils of Columbus's expeditions.  An early example of political propaganda maneuvering as well as a fun deep-dive into a small piece of history.

Review to be posted on blog on the publication date (march 12, 2019).  Also posted to LibraryThing, Litsy and Twitter
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