Discover the vibrant life of Hernando Colón, Christopher Columbus’ illegitimate son in Edward Wilson-Lee’s illuminating new biography THE CATALOGUE OF SHIPWRECKED BOOKS out now from William Collins in hardback, ebook and audio. Helen Castor called it ‘a thought-provoking exploration of the ways in which we acquire, organise and retrieve information about the world and our place in it.’ In Literary Review Felipe Fernández-Armesto described the book as ‘a 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.’ You can also read Alison Flood’s Guardian feature on Edward and the book here
Without libraries, who are we? We have no past, and no future… This fascinating book tells for the first time in English the story of the first great universal library in the age of printing — and of the illegitimate son of Christopher Colombus who created it. Hernando Colón spent his life trying to build the first universal library of print: personally scouring bookshops in an attempt to acquire a copy of every book, he brought them back to his library in Seville, where he drove himself mad attempting to devise how best to navigate and organise the world of print.
Hernando lived in extraordinary times. He knew Erasmus, Dürer and Thomas More, was at the forefront in the first international conference to determine the circumference of the world, led the team that created the first world map on scientific principles — and invented the modern bookcase!
Hernando’s life placed him at the centre of the ages of exploration, print, and the Reformation: he spent a year living with his father marooned aboard a shipwrecked hull off Jamaica and wrote the first biography of Columbus. To reconstruct his life is not only to recover a vision of the Renaissance world, but also to appreciate the passions and intrigues that lie beneath our own disciplined attempts to b ring order to the world. THE CATALOGUE OF SHIPWRECKED BOOKS is an unforgettable journey through these layered realities — and a bibliophile’s dream!
Last night saw the launch of THE CATALOGUE OF SHIPWRECKED BOOKS in the beautiful Wren Library in Cambridge. Home to over 700,000 books printed before the 1820s, medieval manuscripts and archives, the Wren Library was the perfect location to launch the captivating biography of a man who dedicated his life to the collection of books. Edward will be appearing on BBC Radio 4’s Open Book programme on Sunday 20 May to talk about Hernando’s library.
Rights to THE CATALOGUE OF SHIPWRECKED BOOKS have been sold internationally in France, Spain, Germany, Japan and Italy, with more international news to come shortly!
Edward Wilson-Lee is a Fellow in English at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, where he teaches medieval and Renaissance literature and Shakespeare. After growing up in Kenya and Switzerland, he went to university in London, New York, Oxford and Cambridge, living briefly in Mexico and New Orleans in between.
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Praise for THE CATALOGUE OF SHIPWRECKED BOOKS:
‘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, Literary Review
‘Hernando Columbus deserves to be as famous as his father, Christopher…Wilson-Lee’s greatest strength is the subtlety with which Hernando’s public life as a courtier and his private life as a collector are interwoven. Unless you like libraries a lot then the most important thing about Hernando is not the most interesting. But in these elegantly handled parallels, Wilson-Lee leads us almost by stealth to an understanding of his subject’s greatest achievement.’ — Dennis Duncan, Spectator
'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: THE WOMEN WHO RULED ENGLAND BEFORE ELIZABETH
‘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 captures the life 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 A STAIN IN THE BLOOD