A 2018 Book of the Year in The Spectator, The New Statesman, History Today and The Financial Times • Shortlisted for the James Tait Black Prize for Biography
"Magnificent"--The New York Times
"Superb"--The Wall Street Journal
"a work of imagination restrained by respect for evidence, of brilliance suitably alloyed by erudition, and of scholarship enlivened by sensitivity and acuity."
Felipe Fernández-Armesto, The Literary Review
"The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books is a wonderful book, not least in the literal sense of an epic unfolding in a non-stop procession of marvels, ordeals and apparitions...The true measure of Wilson-Lee's accomplishment...is to make Hernando's epic...every bit as thrilling as his father's story."
Simon Schama, The Financial Times
"The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books is like a Renaissance wonder-cabinet, full of surprises and opening up into a lost world."
Stephen Greenblatt, author of The Swerve
" a tour de force of sifting through dusty fragments and of vivid biographical storytelling, as well as a delicious, Borgesian dream for all bookworms and lovers of libraries and print ephemera."
Marina Warner, New Statesman Books of the Year
THE CATALOGUE OF SHIPWRECKED BOOKS tells the scarcely believable––and wholly true––story of Christopher Columbus' bastard son Hernando, who sought to equal and surpass his father's achievements by creating a universal library that would harness the vast powers of the new printing presses and bring every book in the world together in his library in Seville. In service of this he spent his life travelling through Europe, scouring the bookstores of the day for every available title, and thinking all the while of how he could harness this flood to the best advantage. Hernando was one of the first and greatest visionaries of the print age, someone who saw how the scale of available information would entirely change the landscape of thought and society. But the library he produced was much more than just an information-crunching machine: it was an artefact moulded by his life and the age in which he lived. During his immensely eventful life he spent years travelling in the New World, during one of which he lived with his father on a shipwreck off Jamaica, created a dictionary and a geographical encyclopaedia of Spain, helped to create the first modern maps of the world, spent time in almost every major European capital, and associated with many of the great people of his day, from Ferdinand and Isabel to Erasmus, Thomas More, and Dürer. He wrote the first biography of his father, almost single-handedly creating the legend of Columbus that held sway for many hundreds of years, and was highly influential in crafting how Europe saw the world his father reached in 1492. He also amassed the largest collection of printed images and of printed music of the age, started what was perhaps Europe's first botanical garden, and created by far the greatest private library Europe had ever seen, dwarfing with its 15,000 books every other library of the day. This first major modern biography of Hernando––and the first of any kind available in English––tells an enthralling tale of the age of print and exploration, a tale with striking lessons for our own modern experiences of information revolution and Globalisation.
praise for The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books
"This is a remarkable and deeply absorbing book – both a vivid account of the extraordinary life of Hernando Colón, younger son of Christopher Columbus, and a thought-provoking exploration of the ways in which we acquire, organise and retrieve information about the world and our place in it. The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books is minutely-researched history that reads like fiction – at once hauntingly redolent of Eco and Borges, and sharply relevant in our data-driven age." -- Helen Castor, author of She Wolves
"Edward Wilson-Lee’s fascinating and beautifully written account of how Hernando conceived and assembled his library is set within a highly original biography of the compiler. It’s a work of imagination restrained by respect for evidence, of brilliance suitably alloyed by erudition, and of scholarship enlivened by sensitivity and acuity. [...] The ‘library that would collect everything’ became, as it grew unmanageably, a Borgesian labyrinth of ‘baffling marvels’. Wilson-Lee describes it with verve and strews his account with Rabelaisian lists, incantatory and almost magical in effect, of the sort Hernando loved." -- Felipe Fernández-Armesto, The Literary Review
"★★★★★"––Tim Smith-Laing, The Telegraph
"an utter joy"–– Joseph O'Connor, The Irish Times
"Edward Wilson-Lee's terrific new book brings to life Christopher Columbus's son Hernando, his quirky and dazzling library, and the complex worlds between which he lived. The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books eloquently tells the story of an extraordinary man, while making his era resonate with our own: it is about how we seek to organise our minds and our lives, and, above all, about why books continue to matter." -- Joe Moshenska, author of Stain in the Blood
"A captivating blend of erudition and
eccentricity, The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books tells the forgotten story of Hernando Colón, the illegitimate son of Christopher Columbus, and his obsessive
accumulation of one of the greatest libraries in early modern Europe. Edward Wilson-Lee is an urbane and fluent guide, leading us down obscure bibliographical byways that prove both fascinating in themselves and oddly relevant to our own information-saturated age."
Charles Nicholl, author of The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe
"Wilson-Lee’s great strength is the subtlety with which Hernando’s public life as a courtier and his private life as a collector are interwoven. [...] Wilson-Lee leads us almost by stealth to an understanding of his subject’s greatest achievement. The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books offers us the biography of a man whose peripatetic life took him from the shores of an uncharted world to the coronation of the Holy Roman Emperor, from Tudor England to Medici Rome. But, at the same time, it gives us a picture of an extraordinary mind, conceiving and then creating a sort of steampunk Google." -- Dennis Duncan, The Spectator