How Christopher Columbus’s son built ‘the world’s first search engine’

In the 16th century, Hernando Colón amassed a library of unprecedented size and range. The author of a new biography tells its startlingly modern story

For 30 years, Hernando Colón, the illegitimate son of Christopher Columbus, travelled the world with a quest, albeit one very different to that of his coloniser father: to build the biggest library the world had ever seen. Between 1509 and his death in 1539, Colón travelled all over Europe – in 1530 alone he visited Rome, Bologna, Modena, Parma, Turin, Milan, Venice, Padua, Innsbruck, Augsburg, Constance, Basle, Fribourg, Cologne, Maastricht, Antwerp, Paris, Poitiers and Burgos – buying books everywhere he went and eventually amassing the greatest private library in Europe.

Colón’s aim, to create a universal library containing “all books, in all languages and on all subjects, that can be found both within Christendom and without”, has been charted for the first time in English ...