Monday, September 7, 2009

Spain's Men of the Sea: Daily Life on the Indies Fleets in the Sixteenth Century

By Pablo E. Perez-Mallaina
Paperback 304 pages The Johns Hopkins University Press 2005 978-0801881831
The ships and men of Spain's Atlantic fleets, crucial to the country's empire in the New World during the 16th century, are discussed in lively detail in this prodigiously researched book. Each chapter of Spain's Men of the Sea focuses on a particular aspect of the fleets, from the sailors' backgrounds and motivations for going to sea to their life onboard the great galleons, the most complex machines of the day. The author writes well, often showing a sense of humor, and, besides providing careful documentation, deftly brings the Spanish sailors and their unique nautical society to life. Voyages on the galleons were always dangerous, with looming threats from disease, pirates, tropical storms, and even shipboard brawls--and the book concludes with a fascinating look at the superstitions and religious rituals practiced by those who sailed the Spanish Main.
What an incredible feat the author has accomplished documenting life at sea in the 1500s. Much has been written on the Spanish Armada and the search for treasure ship wrecks, but little on what is was like to serve on these ships, often in appalling conditions.
A number of lithographic type illustrations, common to the period, are included.
Perez-Mallaina is to be commended for this work, which would make a fine addition and course in medieval or nautical history.

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