Ferdinand Magellan Biographies, Online and Print

To get the full picture of a historical character's legacy, it is useful to read and compare biographies from the past as well as the various current works. The older works on this list are available free online and in multiple formats (see links), while the others can be found on Amazon and other websites.

Joyner, Tim. Magellan. Camden, Maine: International Marine, 1992. Joyner’s Magellan biography sticks close to the history, offering a compelling story without too much sensationalizing. Its coverage of Magellan’s early career around the Indian Ocean provides essential context for his 1519 voyage. For readers interested in a closer look, the book provides rich appendices with maps, explanation of the ships, a rich list of sources, notes, and more.

Bergreen, Laurence. Over the Edge of the World: Magellan's Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe. United Kingdom: HarperCollins, 2009. Bergreen fills in gaps that other biographies skip over, such as shipboard routine and the roles of various crew. Bergreen's storytelling made this a popular and well-received work.

Zweig, Stefan. Conqueror of the Seas: The Story of Magellan. United States: Blue Ribbon Books, 1940. An Austrian novelist, playwright, journalist, and biographer, Zweig published his Magellan biography in 1938 (Original title: Magellan. Der Mann und seine Tat). The biographer Tim Joyner (above) cited reading Zweig’s biography as an inspiration behind his book, Magellan, published fifty-five years later. Zweig gives a rich, detailed account, one sensationalized in a 1938-ish fashion: Wrote Zweig of Magellan's return from his seven years in India and Malacca, “[Magellan returned as] an unknown soldier, in soiled, torn, bloodstained clothes …”—a figurative description but one that suggests extremely light travelers in Portuguese armadas in lands where a change of clothes was hard to come by.

Guillemard, Francis Henry Hill. The Life of Ferdinand Magellan, and the First Circumnavigation of the Globe: 1480-1521. United Kingdom: G. Philip & Son, 1890. Guillemard’s work stands out among late nineteenth-century biographies of explorers (compare Butterworth below), a time when circumnavigation was something one suddenly could do in just eighty days (a decade after Jules Verne's 1872 novel Around the World in 80 Days). Guillemard’s biography is available online in multiple formats from the Internet Archive (archive.org). Click here for a PDF version and other download options.

Fernandez-Armesto, Felipe. Straits: Beyond the Myth of Magellan. United States: University of California Press, 2022. Released 500 years after Magellan's death on the island of Mactan, this new biography begins with the premise that Magellan was a failure and provides ample evidence in arguing the case.

Butterworth, Hezekiah. The Story of Magellan. New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1899. Interesting how perceptions—and audiences—change over time. Available in multiple formats at Gutenberg.com.

Johnston, Charles L. Famous Discoverers and Explorers of America. Boston: The Page Company, 1917. Available in multiple formats at Gutenberg.com.

Editor’s note: This list was originally posted on 10/25/23. I will continue to update it.

(C) 2023, by Enrique of Malacca's Voyage. All rights reserved.

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