The European discovery of America : the southern voyages, A.D. 1492-1616

by Samuel Eliot Morison

Hardcover, 1974




Oxford University Press, 1974.


Completing Morison's monumental study of the explorers who discovered and journeyed through the coasts of the Americas, ths volume covers not only all of Latin America, including theCaribbean area and South America, but also Bermuda, Florida and California.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Wolcott37
The second volume of Adm. Samuel Eliot Morison’s brilliant “The European Discovery of America” covers the southern voyages-those to what is today the Caribbean and South America. One can almost taste the salt air and have an almost visceral experience of what it was like for these early explorers. As in the first, Adm. Morison has either sailed or flown over the routes of Columbus, Cabral, Magellan and Drake, and his unique standing enabled him to have the cooperation of the US Navy and Coast Guard (they gave him a cutter to follow Drake’s route in California), along with the Brazilian, Argentine, Chilean and Royal Navies. It reminds one of an earlier era where gentleman historians (many of them amateurs in the strictest sense), were able to call upon their familial connections or use their positions to get to see things ordinary academics can’t see and go places ordinary academics can’t go.

In the first third of the book Morison returns to his favorite subject, Christopher Columbus, (having written a Pulitzer Prize winning biography of him in the 1940s), adding to and modifying his prior works. Morison’s admiration for Columbus as a pure mariner comes through again and again. As a leader Columbus was a martinet, but as a navigator and seaman, Morison feels that Columbus had few equals. His portrait of Columbus, drawn from relatives and contemporaries is that of an affable but driven and fantastically stubborn man, completely confident in his God-given mission and role in life. This contrasts with more recent biographies of Columbus, who focus more on his actions on Hispaniola. Interspaced in this section are chapters on the daily life of a mariner of this time in the service of Portugal and Spain, and the background of the maritime power of those two countries. He is careful not to repeat himself as aspects common to all were covered in the first volume which he intended to be read with this one as a single whole.

Morison covers less famous voyages by Vespucci etc, and even gives brief accounts of land journeys by some of the more exploration-oriented Conquistadores, like DeSoto, Ponce DeLeon, Balboa and Cabaza de Vaca. The accounts are pithy but thorough. The remaining two-thirds of the book are on Magellan and Drake. Morison follows their routes, where yet again his love for the sea is first and foremost, but he gives quite a bit of space over to surveys of the historiography of controversial subjects like Drake’s Plate of Brass.

Another remarkable work of history. And again, my only regret is that Adm. Morison did not live to complete his hoped for third volume on the Northern voyages of Henry Hudson, John Smith and others.
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LibraryThing member PhyllisHarrison
Where else can you find all the details of various expeditions and explorations? What their early lives were like, what they ate, how they behaved (or misbehaved) upon meeting inhabitants, and information as to the true nature of some of our heros? One captain abandonned a crew he sent ashore, killed members of his crew that had opinions he didn't like, and kidnapped children of the locals, apparently as a kind of souvenir.
This contains fantastic research and detail that took a lifetime of work. I'm looking for, and looking forward to, The Northern Voyages, one of the author's other works. This is truly adventure on the high seas, better than fiction.
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LibraryThing member DinadansFriend
This is the volume that completes Morison's useful contribution to the history of South America and the Hispanic Empire. The maps are adequate, though the reader is advised to xerox them and move them separately to use them to flesh out the descriptions of the tracks of the expeditions. This volume deals heavily with both Columbus (Morison had written a biography of the Genoese), and Ferdinand Magellan. There are accounts of the careers of Cabeza de Vaca, and of Sebastian Cabot, which alter my understanding of both men. The quality of the prose is racier than many of the academic community indulge in, and thus the book is an easier read than many on this topic. The attempt for completeness is admirable, and the range of sources is deep.… (more)
LibraryThing member EricCostello
Highly entertaining and literate account of what the title promises: the southern voyages of exploration from the time of Columbus to the very early 17th century. Some of this appears to be reworked material from Morison's other books; I happened to read this one, first, in part because I acquired it first. Morison does a credible job of debunking a lot of the myths surrounding Columbus' life; a worthy antidote for some of the much rolling about. The notes at the end of the chapters are a good way of providing interesting side information, and is better than sticking it at the end of the book. Highly recommended.… (more)


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