Unknown Seas: Audio Book Review. To India, for Spices and Glory

Unknown Seas: The Portuguese Captains and the Passage to India by Ronald Watkins chronicles the Portuguese exploration of Africa and the search for a sea rout to India in the 15th century. This review of Unknown Seas focuses on the audio book but also explains the differences to the e-book edition.

To India: for Spices and Glory

Spices and other exotic goods from India were highly demanded by wealthy Europeans. However, the trade with India was controlled by Arab merchants as the only route to India known to Europeans was via the Middle East. Europeans suspected and hoped that a sea rout to India was possible but this was a costly and dangerous search. In fact, when Columbus set out to discover the American Continent he was actually trying to get to India by sailing westward.

Columbus’ journey was financed by the king and queen of Spain after the Portuguese king had refused to finance it.

Unknown Seas follows the Portuguese voyages to explore the African coast, ultimately searching for a sea rout to India. The ultimate, successful voyage to India was led by Vasco da Gama between 1497 and 1499. The last chapter of the books gives a brief overview of the Portuguese colonial history in Africa and Asia.

Notes on editions, Book, Audio Book

  • “Unknown Seas: The Portuguese Captains and the Passage to India” by Ronald Watkins was first published in Great Britain in 2003 by John Murray.
  • I purchased the 2011 e-book edition on Amazon in a bundle with an Audible audiobook. I have listened to the complete audio book and have only checked the e-book for additional content. The paper edition seems to be out of print.
  • The only content the audiobook is missing compared to the e-book are footnotes and a bibliography.
  • The audio book is narrated by Robert Anthony Deyes. Length: ca 11,5 h
  • e-book: 350 pages

Martin's History recommends for Enthusiast and Hardcore lovers of history

What I liked

  • The Portuguese exploration of the sea rout to India is a fascination chapter of history.
  • The book mostly succeeds to find the right balance between enough details and not becoming too detailed.
  • Overall Robert Anthony Deyes, the narrator, did a solid job. (however, see first point of What I didn’t like)

What I didn’t like

  • The narrator switched his voice and sounded somewhat pompous when he is quoting from an (original) primary source. Thus – as with every audio book – I recommend not to buy it without having heard a sample first.
  • The e-book does not include any maps or pictures. Apparently the 2003 paper edition included photographs and charts. However, these are not included in the 2011 e-book.
  • The beginning of the book, before the first voyages, was a bit slow and included some overly broad but not well sourced statements.

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