The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books

The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books

Christopher Columbus, His Son, and the Quest to Build the World's Greatest Library

Book - 2019
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"The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books tells the story of the first and greatest visionary of the print age, a man who saw how the explosive expansion of knowledge and information generated by the advent of the printing press would entirely change the landscape of thought and society. He also happened to be Christopher Columbus's illegitimate son. At the peak of the Age of Exploration, while his father sailed across the ocean to explore the boundaries of the known world, Hernando Colón sought to surpass Columbus's achievements by building a library that would encompass the world and include "all books, in all languages and on all subjects." In service of this vision, he spent his life travelling--first to the New World with his father in 1502, surviving through shipwreck and a bloody mutiny off the coast of Jamaica, and later, throughout Europe, scouring the bookstores of the day at the epicenter of printing. The very model of a Renaissance man, Hernando restlessly and obsessively bought thousands and thousands of books, amassing a collection based on the modern conviction that a truly great library should include the kind of material dismissed as ephemeral trash: ballads, pornography, newsletters, popular images, romances, fables. Using an invented system of hieroglyphs, he meticulously catalogued every item in his library, devising the first ever search engine for his rich profusion of books and images and music. A major setback in 1522 gave way to the creation of Hernando's Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books and inspired further refinements to his library, including a design for the first modern bookshelves. In this illuminating and brilliantly researched biography, Edward Wilson-Lee tells an enthralling story of the life and times of the first genius of the print age, a tale with striking lessons for our own modern experiences of information revolution and globalization."--
Publisher: New York :, Scribner,, 2019.
Edition: First Scribner hardcover edition.
Copyright Date: ©2018
ISBN: 9781982111397
Branch Call Number: 002.075 WI
Characteristics: 401 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations (some color), maps ; 24 cm
Alternative Title: Catalog of shipwrecked books


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Nov 13, 2019

Excellent book full of surprises. I had no idea that Columbus's illegitimate son ascended to a court position with the Hapsburg emperor and hobnobbed with the likes of Albrecht Durer and Erasmus. An amazing and revelatory biography. Highly recommended.

Jul 15, 2019

All bibliophiles will love this extraordinary story of Hernando Colon who amassed a collection of over 5,000 books. He traveled through Europe meeting and purchasing. This included meeting authors of the time such as Erasmus and Thomas More. Hernando included buying prints and various illustrations. He included everything that offered new ways of thinking. His path crossed Durer's in his own travels, and Hernando sought out those prints. There were other collections at the time, but Hernando was different in that he included popular printings of tracts ad pictures, the equivalent in these times of saving comic books as they were first printed. He included writings in many different languages. As he did so, he searched for ways to organize these collections, cataloguing as he went from city to city in Renaissance Europe. At one point, most of the collection sank with the boat that carried it. Hernando still had the list, which he called the "Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books ". Hernando was different from his father in many ways, but he shared his determination. Hernando just continued collecting and cataloguing. Hernando had beeb there when his father arrived back after his first voyage, and then accompanied him on subsequent voyages. His extraordinary collecting started watching his father who gathered in his "Book of Prophecies" quotations and material that foretold his voyages being monumental, even mystical in their bringing the Christian God (and the Spainish Empire) to this new land. Columbus was not always welcome back to Spain as described in this history, and had to struggle to keep his family's claim to wealth from the voyages. Hernando picked up this struggle after his father's death, and eventually wrote a biography that definitely told only part of the story, but which eventually shaped the way Columbus was seen for many centuries. Perhaps the most important theme in this book was Hernando's efforts to organize the library. He made some bad decisions about separating the languages, which had consequences as to how other knowledges were perceived in Europe. But Hernando eventually created what amounted to cards for each volume with various pieces of information about them, including summaries (Book of Epitomes). This was a first kind of card catalogue, and as described by Wilson-Lee, what he wanted was a data base and search engine. Hernando lived in the thick of things in incredibly exciting and tumultuous times for Europe and the world. There are many more historial figures brought to life by the author, some of whom I had not previously heard of. Columbus's story is still being hashed out. The fate of Hernando's fabulous library I will leave for you to read in this absorbing book.


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