The story of Christopher Columbus’ life and discoveries are sadly misrepresented in modern books. It’s even popular to trash his name around Columbus Day each year. But his life, his desires, and his accomplishments (and even his shortcomings) are well-documented in his own journals and those of the men who sailed with him.
Christopher means “Christ-bearer.” It was not just the name his parents gave him; it became his mission. With hindsight, we have the advantage of understanding the world Columbus grew up in, the politics of the time, and the desire to find new worlds, new trade routes, and new riches. Columbus desired all of these things; he was a product of his time. But just as important was his desire to spread the Christian faith around the world.
There’s a lot more to his story than modern history books tell us. Thankfully, firsthand accounts from the 15th century give us clearer insight into his story. This book, Columbus & Cortez, Conquerors for Christ (The Controversy, The Conquest, The Mission, The Vision) by John Eidsmoe, does a great job of highlighting Columbus’ own writings from his journals, his letters, and the writings of those who knew him. It does not pretend that Columbus was a saint; it does, however, explore his motives and his shortcomings, as well as the turning point in his career as Admiral of the Ocean Sea. I highly recommend this book for highschool reading as part of a world history and/or American history curriculum. We teach both simultaneously (you can read about it here). It’s also a great book for adults who feel like they didn’t learn much about history, or forgot everything they learned.
For younger children, I also love this chapter book of Columbus’ life in the (excellent) Sower Series. It’s perfect for older elementary to high schoolers to read on their own, or for mom to read aloud to younger children. I like to read these aloud to all of my students together in our read-aloud time. You can read my review of another book in this series, Francis Scott Key, here.
Did you know you can even read Columbus’ journals for yourself? I have added them to a book in my Knowledge Keepers Bookstore series, Christopher Columbus: His Story and His Journals. This is actually two old books in one: an 1892 narrative of the life of Columbus, based closely on his journals, and a 1906 copy of the journals and letters of Columbus and his contemporaries, heavily researched and footnoted. It is a wealth of information for any student of history, and is suitable for all ages! I’ve also created a free study guide to accompany this book, perfect for multiple ages.
So you see, there is simply no excuse for misinterpreting the life and motives of Columbus today. He was not a greedy murderer, as you will probably read in many online articles; he was a man who felt led by God and appointed by his King and Queen to navigate the ocean for a new trade route and and the advancement of the Gospel.
Columbus’ story is not good or bad; it’s history. Whether a great man eventually succumbed to temptation is not the issue when studying the great events of the world. Facts are what they are, and they should be read, remembered, and taught to our children. I hope you will check out these books and include them as part of your history reading!