First published in 1589 with the final and greatly enlarged version appearing between 1598 and 1600, the book is a compendium of every voyage and commercial report that Hakluyt could get his hands on. The first two reports in the edition that I have date to 890, with the majority falling to the period 1553 to 1596.
Hakluyt's intent in collecting and publishing material was practical. Practical in the sense that he wanted to make the information available for use by others. Practical in the sense that he was promoting and presenting the English commercial interest. Practical also because the work undertaken by Hakluyt allowed him to amass a considerable fortune.
Today Voyages and Discoveries is interesting in part as travel yarns, in part because it presents eye witness accounts of events and commercial activities at a critical time in English and European history. This period saw the beginning of the colonial period with the early growth of the first overseas European empires; it saw England begin the challenge to the interests of Portugal and especially Spain (think Drake and the Spanish Armada) that would lay the basis for a wholesale land grab and the establishment of its own Empire; it also saw Europe's commercial and trade focus final shift from the traditional land routes towards the sea.
Richard Hakluyt was born at Eyton in Herefordshire in 1553, the second of four sons. His father, also Richard, was a member of the Worshipful Company of Skinners whose members dealt in skins and furs. Richard Snr died in 1557, Richard's mother soon after. A cousin, yet another Richard Hackluyt, became his guardian. Cousin Richard was a barrister and a member of the Middle Temple'
Hakluyt was educated at Westminster School and then at Christ Church Oxford. awarded his MA in 1577. He was ordained as an Anglican minister in the following year.
Hakluyt decided to dedicate himself to what we would now call geography while still a schoolboy at Westminster. Visiting his guardian whose conversation was illustrated by "certain bookes of cosmographie, an universall mappe, and the Bible", the boy resolved to "prosecute that knowledge, and kind of literature". At Oxford, he set out to read all the printed or written voyages and discoveries that he could find and began to give public lectures on geography following his graduation.