Conquering the Pacific: An Unknown Mariner and the Final Great Voyage of the Age of Discovery

Houghton Harcourt. Sept. 2021. 304p. ISBN 9781328515971. $28. HIST
In a book that mixes stirring adventure story with inspired scholarship, Reséndez (history, Univ. of California, Davis; The Other Slavery, a National Book Award finalist) details the biracial Black mariner Lope Martín’s round-trip voyage from Navidad, on the west coast of Mexico, to the Philippines, in 1564–65. Martín was a navigator in Spain’s expedition to undercut Portugal in Asia; the largest of its four ships was 60 feet long, while the smallest, the San Lucas, was only 20 feet. He piloted the San Lucas on its return trip to Mexico, when it became the first European vessel to successfully sail east across the Pacific, against the prevailing ocean currents that impeded earlier attempts, Reséndez writes. On the way, the crew faced hunger, fierce storms, near-shipwreck, and even mutiny, but the San Lucas completed the never-before-accomplished return trip and reached Mexico at least a month before the expedition’s largest ship. Reséndez does a superb job explaining the challenges of early sea navigation, including navigating circular ocean currents and the contrary ways of Earth’s magnetic fields. The book is complete with extensive maps charting the journey and archival photographs.
VERDICT A vivid tale of adventure and discovery that will draw in all history lovers. Reséndez’s skillful writing is fast-paced, inviting, and descriptive, setting this book apart.
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