Who would you choose to judge you long after your death? How about a professional historian? How about Felipe Fernández-Armesto? Much lauded and read, this professor of history at Notre Dame, Indiana is the author of many books including short histories of humankind and the world and longer ones of exploration, Hispanic America and the year 1492. As you begin Straits, his account of the life and voyages of Fernando de Magallanes, known in English as Ferdinand Magellan, the explorer credited with the first European navigation from the Atlantic to the Pacific via the straits at the tip of South America in 1520, you may quail at the thought of his searing judgments.
He can be waspish, uncompromising and cutting. Explorers were liars, seafarers are generally irresponsible and today’s graduates ‘find modesty an encumbrance and accuracy a superfluity’.