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73 of 75 found the following review helpful:
Travels in space and timeMay 04, 2008
By Kerry Walters
Some of my favorite books are those in which the authors recreate historical voyages. Thor Heyerdahl's Kon-Tiki and Ra journeys, Colin Tubrin's pilgrimage along the Silk Road, Dayton Duncan's re-tracing the Lewis & Clark path: I love reading that stuff. And now Tony Horwitz has contributed to the genre with his A Voyage Long and Strange, a book in which he "roams the annals of early America" (p. 7). Readers who remember his Confederates in the Attic can well imagine the insight with which Horwitz explores the history of the New World's discovery and the wry sense of humor he brings to his personal rediscovery of ancient routes.
Horwitz set out to explore all the points in the New World "discovered" and described by early explorers. Focusing on the three categories (that frequently, in reality, overlapped) of discovery, conquest, and settlement, Horwitz narrates the history of, for example, Coronado's search for the Cities of Gold (pp. 134-164) or the settlement of Roanoke's "lost colony" (pp. 293-325), and interweaves in the narration accounts of his own travels over Coronado's route and his exploration of the Carolina peninsula where the lost colony once flourished. The mixture makes for exciting reading, lending a contemporary vitality to the historical descriptions.
I was especially intrigued by Horwitz's account of the Spanish exploration of the New World (chapters 5-9). It's as good a short account of the conquest of the southeastern coastal regions, the southwestern deserts, and the plains west of the Mississippi, as any I know. Chapter 9, which deals with de Soto's rather aimless trek north of what today is Louisiana into Arkansas, Mississippi, and Texas--which Horwitz describes as "wandering blind, deaf, and mute in the middle of the continent" (p. 255)--is particularly interesting.* It really does underscore just how much of a leap into the unknown the early visitors to the New World were making.
All in all, an interesting read with a good bibliography and several helpful maps. Highly recommended.
* While trying to recreate de Soto's confused ramblings, Horowitz makes his way to Arkansas City, where he's been told he'll find de Soto's coffin. But Horwitz discovers he's been on a wild goose chase. As a city elder tells him, "Young man, I do believe you've been led on. Just like those Spanish, always chasing their gold" (p. 259). In more ways than one, then, Horwitz walked in the early explorers' shoes.
35 of 35 found the following review helpful:
Easy and informativeJun 04, 2009
By A. Rehm
"enjoys having opinions about things"
Some people get turned off by Horwitz's light, popular style; he mixes his history with his own travelogues as he follows its trail, which means that parts of his books are about crappy hotel rooms and weirdos. All that fluff conceals a careful, sober researcher, though; when you're done breezing through one of his books, you'll realize that you learned quite a bit after all.
"A Voyage Long and Strange" covers the murky epoch between the original "discovery" of America and the 1620 Plymouth settlement, when men like Hernando de Soto and Cabeza de Vaca were wandering lost and starving through America, looking for gold and shooting everything else. Fascinating stuff.
183 of 209 found the following review helpful:
Delightful historical narrativeMay 01, 2008
By M. L Lamendola
A delightful historical narrative! And quite refreshing in this age of disinformation.
While our public schools continue their relentless rewriting of history to fit the agenda of special interest groups (such as the criminal protection lobby's removal of firearms from image of Washington crossing the Delaware), it's good to come across a book based on open-minded research. Turning the conventional pattern completely backwards, Horwitz seeks information and then forms conclusions. That approach made this book a "keeper." In fact, Horwitz deftly defrocks a long list of myths, half-truths, and utter fabrications that are almost canonical today.
He defies another convention by staying on topic. If you've been offended by books the author uses to segue into political side issues, you'll be pleased at Horwitz's not doing that.
Tony Horwitz follows the centuries-long European discovery of the new world. This discovery didn't, as popular myth holds, start at Plymouth Rock. Nor, as we are told during Thanksgiving each year, did European settlement begin with the Pilgrims. In fact, those folks didn't call themselves Pilgrims--that's a label fabricated for them in much later times.
The discovery, exploration, and settlement occurred in fits and starts. It was more stumbling and bumbling than it was heroic conquest. And it was more often brutal than it was noble.
While reading this, I frequently laughed aloud. Horwitz has a knack for keeping things lively with quips, barbs, and acerbic wit. His own adventures while visiting the many places discussed in the book sometimes produced situations that were farcical enough for a few chuckles. At other times, the people he ran across were, themselves, hilarious. As entertaining as it is, the real value of this book its actual information. Horwitz doggedly pursued answers to questions, and while that pursuit provided ample basis for comedy, it also provided answers that are worth knowing.
In some cases, that research didn't provide an answer but merely proved the official propaganda wrong. There are some things we simply do not and cannot know. When a work purports to be nonfiction and yet has answers to everything, you can be fairly confident that work isn't reliable. Horwitz voyage produced some frustrations for him and left unanswered many questions that would have been nice to have answered. The fact he doesn't just plug in an answer he likes makes me fairly confident this work is reliable.
This book is about 400 pages long and contains 15 maps.
The Prologue explains why Horwitz embarked on this quest. Despite his extensive background in American history, there were large gaps. And he got to thinking about this. He shares some of those thoughts in the Prologue.
This book is divided into three Parts:
Part One consists of four chapters, one each for Vinland (mostly Lief and related Eirickssons), 1492 (Columbus, et al), Santo Domingo (Columbus again), and Hispaniola (lots of laughs and oddball characters).
Part Two devotes five chapters to the conquest. Each chapter covers a separate geographic area: Gulf Coast (an assortment of Spanish explorers, dandies, and conquistadors), Southwest (to the seven cities of stone), the plains (the sea of grass that seemed to swallow up many explorers and potential settlers), the South (De Soto does Dixie), and the Mississippi. On that last one, I have always wondered how this river got such an ungainly name. Horwitz reveals the answer.
Part Three contains four chapters, each of which provides insight into the settlements in St. Augustine (and other Florida places), Roanoke (and other Virginia places), Jamestown, and Plymouth, respectively. The chapter on Plymouth rips apart several myths, including the many that surround the Thanksgiving holiday.
The source notes and bibliography are extensive, which would be expected of a book that is this well-researched. What those reference don't reflect is the sheer footwork Hortwitz did. And I don't mean figuratively. He actually walked where these explorers, conquerors, and settlers walked. He visited sites, spoke with other researchers, and interviewed people who had starkly different views of what occurred.
All of this research contributed to a credible work that is also quite funny in places.
46 of 50 found the following review helpful:
Fascinating and vividMay 11, 2008
By Julie Neal
When a history book describes Plymouth Rock as looking like a "fossilized potato" and Florida's capitol building as "The Big D...," you know you're in for something unusual. Having gone to college in Tallahassee, I can attest to the reasons for the capitol's nickname -- its "towering shaft flanked by gonadlike domes," as author Tony Horwitz puts it. He writes with equal wit throughout "A Voyage Long and Strange," a smart, funny book that skewers traditional views of our nation's past. I couldn't put it down.
The book explores the lusty, violent period in American history between Columbus and Jamestown. Horwitz embarks on a journey of his own, exploring the modern-day places where our country began. Along the way he uncovers some strange truths -- Columbus never saw or set foot on any land that became U.S. soil; Pocahontas was only 10 years old when she met John Smith and they were never romantic; Ponce de Leon was looking not for the Fountain of Youth but rather gold, just like so many others. The overall picture is cruel, hilarious, messy, unfair and always fascinating.
Over a dozen maps and many historical black and white illustrations are scattered through the book.
Here's the chapter list:
Part 1: Discovery
1. Vinland: First contact
2. 1492: The hidden half of the globe
3. Santo Domingo: The Columbus jinx
4. Dominican Republic: You think there are still Indians?
Part II: Conquest
5. The Gulf Coast: Naked in the New World
6. The Southwest: To the Seven Cities of Stone
7. The Plains: Sea of grass
8. The South: De Soto does Dixie
9. The Mississippi: Conquistador's last stand
Part III: Settlement
10. Florida: Fountain of youth, river of blood
11. Roanoke: Lost in the lost colony
12. Jamestown: The captain and the naturals
13. Plymouth: A tale of two rocks
28 of 30 found the following review helpful:
The Trail of Faded FootstepsMay 18, 2009
By Best Of All
There are around 40 counties, towns and cities in the United States that are named after Christopher Columbus, an explorer who never set foot in what is today the U.S.
Pulitzer Prize winner Tony Horwitz uses that fact to launch an exploration into the early adventurers on that vast landscape - including conquistadors, missionaries, pirates and brigands - through impeccable scholarship, humor and unique storytelling bolstered by his walking many of the areas that contain these faded footsteps in the dusty afterthought of history.
The first European who should be feted for the feat "awarded" to Columbus is Ponce de Leon, who landed in Florida in 1513. And it was French Huguenots who were the first Protestants to escape religious persecution in Europe by landing near what is now Jacksonville, Florida, and building a fort.
It certainly was a long and strange trip and one that has the twists and turns of incredible richness and drama. Horwitz brings those times back to life with vivid colors on a rich canvas that sheds light on the true facts and incredible fiction that continues to shape the debate on early America.
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