We live in a flat world. What I mean is, anything that is multidimensional is crushed by our limited monkey brains, facilitated by facile modalities of communication and conversation, into senseless flatness. For this reason, one may never really learn that Columbus, as a person, and the Spanish exploration and colonial enterprise in which he was engaged, is a critically important story. All most people will do is uncritically accept the poetic version (which rhymes “ocean blue” and “1492”) or, the alt-history version, that Columbus came to “America” and destroyed it. (Spoiler: The latter of these two is closer to the nuanced truth, but is not in fact the nuanced truth).
Columbus day itself is a different matter than Columbus. Columbus day is as much about statues, and naming things after people, and holidays, as it is about history. History is interesting because of the importance of context and the intricacies of nuance. There is no nuance in knocking down a statue, or in arguing that the statue should not be knocked down. That matter is one of activism and socio-political upheaval and change, and has almost nothing to do with History.
Anyway, I just wanted to point out that if you act now you can obtain for the low low price of $1.99 (restrictions apply, like this may only be good in the US) a copy of a reasonable biography of Christopher Columbus. This is one of the books people read to discover the nuanced version of that history. Check out the kindle copy of Christopher Columbus by Anna Abraham. I’m not sure if this is the definitive Columbus biography (probably not) but it is inexpensive and only 25 pages or so, so there is that.
The definitive Columbus is probably Columbus: The Four Voyages, 1492-1504 by Laurence Bergreen.
“He knew nothing of celestial navigation or of the existence of the Pacific Ocean. He was a self-promoting and ambitious entrepreneur. His maps were a hybrid of fantasy and delusion. When he did make land, he enslaved the populace he found, encouraged genocide, and polluted relations between peoples. He ended his career in near lunacy. But Columbus had one asset that made all the difference, an inborn sense of the sea, of wind and weather, and of selecting the optimal course to get from A to B. Laurence Bergreen’s energetic and bracing book gives the whole Columbus and most importantly, the whole of his career, not just the highlight of 1492. Columbus undertook three more voyages between 1494 and 1504, each designed to demonstrate that he could sail to China within a matter of weeks and convert those he found there to Christianity. By their conclusion, Columbus was broken in body and spirit, a hero undone by the tragic flaw of pride. If the first voyage illustrates the rewards of exploration, this book shows how the subsequent voyages illustrate the costs – political, moral, and economic.”