Christopher Columbus, whose bold and erratic voyages we celebrate today, began his career as a trader and business agent. He knew the value of money, and he knew how hard it was to persuade people to part with it. His fantasy, based on a study of unreliable old maps and books, was to find a direct sea route from Europe to the Far East, where fabulous riches were believed to be had for the taking. As we now know, he was badly mistaken. A huge continent blocked the way between Europe and Asia, and Columbus sailed right into it.