A Voyage Long and Strange: On the Trail of Vikings, Conquistadors, Lost Colonists, and Other Adventurers in Early America

A Voyage Long and Strange: On the Trail of Vikings, Conquistadors, Lost Colonists, and Other Adventurers in Early America

by Tony Horwitz


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A Voyage Long and Strange is a rich mixture of scholarship and modern-day adventure that brings the forgotten first chapter of America's history vividly to life.

What happened in North America between Columbus's sail in 1492 and the Pilgrims' arrival in 1620?

On a visit to Plymouth Rock, Tony Horwitz realizes he doesn't have a clue, nor do most Americans. So he sets off across the continent to rediscover the wild era when Europeans first roamed the New World in quest of gold, glory, converts, and eternal youth. Horwitz tells the story of these brave and often crazed explorers while retracing their steps on his own epic trek--an odyssey that takes him inside an Indian sweat lodge in subarctic Canada, down the Mississippi in a canoe, on a road trip fueled by buffalo meat, and into sixty pounds of armor as a conquistador reenactor in Florida.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312428327
Publisher: Picador
Publication date: 04/27/2009
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 464
Sales rank: 45,690
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

TONY HORWITZ is the bestselling author of Blue Latitudes, Confederates in the Attic, and Baghdad without a Map. He is also a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who has worked for The Wall Street Journal and The New Yorker. He lives in Massachusetts with his wife, Geraldine Brooks, and their sons, Nathaniel and Bizu.


Waterford, Virginia

Date of Birth:


Date of Death:

May 27, 2019

Place of Birth:

Washington, D.C.

Place of Death:

Washington, D.C.


B.A., Brown University; M.A., Columbia University School of Journalism

Read an Excerpt


The Pilgrims didn’t think much of Cape Cod. “A hideous and desolate wilderness,” William Bradford called it. “Full of wild beasts and wild men.” Rather than stay, a small party from the Mayflower sailed ahead, searching for a winter haven. In December 1620, they reached Plymouth, a place “fit for situation,” Bradford wrote. “At least it was the best they could find.”

On a New England road trip a few summers ago, I washed up in Plymouth, too. It could have been Dedham or Braintree or some other pit stop on the highway near Boston. But a Red Sox game pulsed on the radio, so I drove until it ended at the Plymouth exit. Stopping for beer at Myles Standish Liquor, I was directed to the William Bradford Motor Inn, the best I could find in peak tourist season.

Early the next morning I went for a walk along the waterfront, past a chowder house, a saltwater taffy shop, a wax museum, and a replica Mayflower moored in the bay. Near the water stood a gray historic marker that was terse even by New England standards.

Plymouth Rock. Landing Place of the Pilgrims. 1620.

I looked around and couldn’t see anything except asphalt and a few stones small enough for skipping. Then I spotted a lone speed-walker racing down the sidewalk. “Excuse me,” I said, chasing after him, “but where’s Plymouth Rock?”

Without breaking stride, he thrust a thumb over his shoulder. “You just passed it.”

Twenty yards back was a columned enclosure, between the sidewalk and shoreline. Stepping inside, I came to a rail overlooking a shallow pit. At the bottom sat a lump of granite, the wet sand around it strewn with cigarette butts and ticket stubs from the wax museum. The boulder, about five feet square, had a badly mended cleft in the middle. It looked like a fossilized potato.

A few minutes later a family arrived. As they entered the portico, the father intoned to his children, “This is where it all began.” Then they peered over the rail.

“That’s it?”

“Guess so.”

“It’s, like, nothing.”

“We’ve got rocks bigger than that in our yard.”

Before long, the portico was packed: tour bus groups, foreign sightseers, summer campers. Their response followed the same arc, from solemnity to shock to hilarity. But Plymouth Rock was an icon of American history. So visitors dutifully snapped pictures or pointed video cameras down at the static granite.

“That’s going to be one heckuva home movie.”

“Yeah. My Visit to Plymouth Pebble.”

“The Pilgrims must have had small feet.”

I went over to chat with a woman in green shorts and tan shirt standing outside the enclosure, counting visitors with a hand clicker. Claire Olsen was a veteran park ranger at Plymouth, accustomed to hearing tourists abuse the sacred stone. “A lot of people come here expecting the Rock of Gibraltar,” she said. “Maybe that’s where they went on their last vacation.”

She was also accustomed to fielding odd questions. Was it true that the Mayflower crashed into Plymouth Rock? Did the Pilgrims serve Thanksgiving on top of it? The bronze, ten-foot-tall Indian on a hill overlooking the rock—was he life-sized?

The most common question, though, concerned the date etched into the rock’s surface. Why did it say 1620, visitors wondered, rather than 1492? Wasn’t that when Columbus arrived?

“Or they ask, ‘Is this where the three ships landed?’” Claire said. “They mean the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa María. People think Columbus dropped off the Pilgrims and sailed home.”

Claire had to patiently explain that Columbus’s landing and the Pilgrims’ arrival occurred a thousand miles and 128 years apart. “Americans learn about 1492 and 1620 as kids and that’s all they remember as adults,” she said. “The rest of the story is blank.”

As she returned to counting tourists, I returned to the Governor Bradford, chuckling over visitors’ questions. America, great land of idiocy! But Claire’s parting comment gave me pause. Back on the road, winding past cranberry bogs, I scanned the data stored in my own brain about America’s founding by Europeans. In fourteen hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue . . . John Smith and Jamestown . . . the Mayflower Compact . . . Pilgrims in funny hats . . . Of the Indians who met the English, I of course knew Pocahontas, Squanto, and . . . Hiawatha?

That was the sum of what I dredged up. Scraps from elementary school and the Thanksgiving table. Plus some fuzzy, picture-book images of black-robed friars and armored conquistadors I couldn’t identify. As for dates, I’d mislaid an entire century, the one separating Columbus’s sail in 1492 from Jamestown’s founding in 16-0-something. Maybe nothing happened in the period between. Still, it was distressing not to know. Expensively educated at a private school and university—a history major, no less!—I’d matriculated to middle age with a third grader’s grasp of early America.

Returning home to Virginia, I resolved to undertake some remedial study. At first, this proved deceptively easy: most of what I wanted to know was hiding in plain sight, at my local library. After skimming a few histories, I dug deeper, reading the letters and journals of early explorers. A cinch, really—except, an awful lot happened between Columbus and the Pilgrims. Incredible stories I’d known nothing about. This wasn’t a gap in my education; it was a chasm.

By the time the first English settled, other Europeans had already reached half of the forty-eight states that today make up the continental United States. One of the earliest arrivals was Giovanni da Verrazzano, who toured the Eastern Seaboard in 1524, almost a full century before the Pilgrims arrived. Verrazzano, an Italian in command of a French ship, smelled America before he saw it: “A sweet fragrance,” he wrote, wafted out to sea from the dense cedar forests of the Carolinas.

Reaching the coast, Verrazzano dispatched one of his men to swim ashore and greet some people gathered on the dunes. The natives promptly carried the Frenchman to a fire on the beach and stripped off his clothes—not to “roast him for food,” as his shipmates feared, but to warm the sailor while “looking at the whiteness of his flesh and examining him from head to toe.”

Coasting north, Verrazzano was favorably impressed by a wide bay he called Santa Margarita, better known today as New York harbor. “A very agreeable place,” he wrote, presciently observing that its well-populated shore “was not without some properties of value.” Only at the end of his east coast cruise was Verrazzano disappointed. Natives bared their buttocks at sailors and lowered trade goods onto “rocks where the breakers were most violent.” Verrazzano called this “Land of Bad People,” a name since changed to Maine.

In 1528, on a return voyage to America, Verrazzano went ashore on a Caribbean island that appeared deserted. He was quickly seized by natives, then “cut into pieces and eaten down to the smallest bone.” Or so claims the only surviving account of his landing, which concludes: “Such a sad death had the seeker of new lands.”

History has been cruel to Verrazzano, too. In his own time, the navigator was so renowned that his name appeared on an early globe, spanning the east coast of North America. Today, he is forgotten, except as the namesake of a New York bridge that arcs over the narrows he sailed through in 1524.

Even less remembered are the Portuguese pilots who steered Spanish ships along both coasts of the continent in the sixteenth century, probing upriver to Bangor, Maine, and all the way to Oregon. En route, in 1542, one diarist wrote of California, “The country appears to be very fine,” but its inhabitants “live very swinishly.” That same year, Spanish conquistadors completed a reconnaissance of the continent’s interior: scaling the Appalachians, rafting the Mississippi, peering down the Grand Canyon, and galloping as far inland as central Kansas (much to the surprise of the Plains Indians, who had never seen horses).

The Spanish didn’t just explore: they settled, from the Rio Grande to the Atlantic. Upon founding St. Augustine, the first permanent European city on U.S. soil, the Spanish gave thanks and dined with Indians—fifty-six years before the Pilgrim Thanksgiving at Plymouth. The Spanish also established a Jesuit mission in Virginia, a few miles from the future Jamestown. Nor were Spaniards the only Europeans on the premises. French Protestants, fleeing persecution at home, founded a Florida colony in 1564, before all but two of the Pilgrims were born.

The more I read about pre-Mayflower America, the more I wondered why I’d learned so little of it before. This wasn’t a clot of esoteric names and dates I’d dozed through in high school history, like the Habsburg Succession or the War of Jenkins’s Ear. This was the forgotten first chapter of my own country’s founding by Europeans, a chapter mysteriously redacted from the textbooks of my youth—and, as far as I knew, from national memory.

Anglo bias seemed the obvious culprit, but it didn’t altogether explain Americans’ amnesia. Jamestown preceded Plymouth by thirteen years as the first permanent English colony on the continent. Yet, like most Americans, I was ignorant of the Jamestown story, even though I’d spent much of my life in Virginia. Almost everyone knows the Mayflower, even new immigrants; the Pilgrim ship features prominently in citizenship tests. How many Americans can name the three ships that brought the first English to Jamestown? Or recall anything about the colony, except perhaps Pocahontas and John Smith?

Plymouth, it turned out, wasn’t even the first English colony in New England. That distinction belonged to Fort St. George, in Popham, Maine—a place I’d never heard of. Nor were Pilgrims the first to settle Massachusetts. In 1602, a band of English built a fort on the island of Cuttyhunk. They came, not for religious freedom, but to get rich from digging sassafras, a commodity prized in Europe as a cure for the clap.

History isn’t sport, where coming first means everything. The outposts at Popham and Cuttyhunk were quickly abandoned, as were most of the early French and Spanish settlements. Plymouth endured, the English prevailed in the contest for the continent, and Anglo-American Protestants—New Englanders, in particular—molded the new nation’s memory. And so a creation myth arose, of Pilgrim Fathers seeding a new land with their piety and work ethic. The winners wrote the history.

But losers matter, especially in the history of early America. It was Spanish, French, and Portuguese voyages that spurred the English across the Atlantic in the first place, and that determined where they settled. Early Europeans also introduced horses, pigs, weeds, swords, guns—and, most lethally, diseases to which Indians had no resistance.

Plymouth was “fit for situation,” as William Bradford put it, because an “extraordinary plague” had recently wiped out coastal natives. This left the shoreline undefended and fields conveniently cleared for corn. In the South and the Mississippi Valley, the devastation was even greater. Sixteenth-century conquistadors cut a swath through ancient civilizations that had once rivaled those of the Aztec and Inca. The Pilgrims, and later, the Americans who pushed west from the Atlantic, didn’t pioneer a virgin wilderness. They occupied a land long since transformed by European contact.

There was another side to the story, just as dramatic and not so depressing. To early Europeans, America seemed a world truly new, and their words give voice to the strangeness and wonder of discovery. What to make of luminous insects that seemed at night a “flame of fire”? Or of “hump-backed cows” with goatlike beards that pounded across the Plains? Even the endless prairie, derided today as “flyover country,” astonished those who first rode across it. “If a man lay down on his back he lost sight of the ground,” one Spanish horseman marveled of the flatness.

Most exotic of all were America’s people, whom Columbus named los Indios, Verrazzano called la genta de la terra, and the early English referred to as the Naturals. To the filthy, malnourished, and overdressed Europeans, natives seemed shockingly large, clean, and bare. Indians were likewise astounded by Europeans. Natives fingered the strangers’ beards, patted flat the wrinkles on their garments (perhaps thinking the cloth was skin), and wondered at their trade goods. When given hand mirrors, Verrazzano wrote, “They would look at them quickly, and then refuse them, laughing.” Exchanges of food were also bewildering. “They misliked nothing but our mustard,” an Englishman wrote of Cuttyhunk islanders in 1602, “whereat they made many a sowre face.”

The Pilgrims who arrived in Massachusetts eighteen years later had a very different experience. Samoset, the first Indian they met at Plymouth, greeted the settlers in English. The first thing he asked for was beer.

If the drama of first contact was denied the late-arriving Pilgrims, it is even less available to travelers today. Encounters between alien cultures don’t occur anymore, outside of science fiction. All that’s needed to explore other hemispheres is a search engine.

But roaming the annals of early America, I’d discovered a world that was new and strange to me. What would it be like to explore this New World, not only in books but on the ground? To take a pre-Pilgrimage through early America that ended at Plymouth Rock instead of beginning there? To make landfall where the first Europeans had, meet the Naturals, mine the past, and map its memory in the present? To rediscover my native land, the U.S. continent?

I had no idea where this would lead, or what I’d find. But I’d read enough to know there’d be detours outside modern boundaries and textbook timelines. Columbus, for starters, was yet another latecomer. To begin at the beginning, I had to go back, way back, to the first Europeans who crossed the ocean blue, long before fourteen hundred and ninety-two.

Copyright © 2008 by Tony Horwitz. All rights reserved.

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Voyage Long and Strange 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 50 reviews.
MikeS More than 1 year ago
Mr. Horwitz is a very good writer. Not humorous like Bryson, detailed like Thoreux, touching like Mayle. He is a no nonsense, this is what I see, reporter. A voyage Long and Strange is a journey from the Vikings exploration of Newfoundland to the English settlement of Jamestown, covering a period of history lacking in available sources. While a common thread exists throughout these early explorations and colonizations, that being the death and destruction of the indigenous people, it is not a book on genocide but a reporting of facts as gleaned by the author. Sort of a modern day "You Are There". His relating of the heros and bums, the successes, mistakes and failures, the lessons learned and unlearned, make for fascinating reading. From Ponce de Leon to Pochahantas the thirteen chapters of history and current observations provide insight and knowledge into the early european history on this continent. Highly recommended.
keinhund More than 1 year ago
Even if one has visited Jamestown, Virginia and St. Augustine, Florida, this easy to read book is full of interesting episodes of history mixed with the author's travels. The well told story helps fill the gaps in the story of America which seems to go from the pilgrims to the War for Independence in most histories.
juko More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed Horwitz's breezy style; he makes history come alive. This is a wonderfully researched book (don't forget to read the notes on sources) which gives the reader a fresh look back at history and clears up many misconceptions about the early explorers. While I learn, I also laugh. Horwitz combines wit with solid research, a rare combo. Illustrations and maps are very helpful. I have also read his earlier work, "Confederates in the Attic," which combines those two qualities.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a great book to read if you're interested in the history of pre-colonial America. Very well written and thorough, this history book is interspersed with travel writings from the author. He visits the places he researches and documents the modern views of the natives. Beware though, many myths are debunked in this so only proceed if you don't believe ignorance is bliss.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Tony Horvitz's chatty style & unusual combination of a modern travelogue with historical data makes for a delightful and eye-opening read. Who were the first Europeans to settle in America for religious freedom? Who was the first European to delve into the heart of the North American wilderness? Who introduced slavery into The New World? What Europeans came upon the Mississippi? Not British pioneers.
AugustRain More than 1 year ago
I really, really like this book. The book's subtitle is "Routes of the North American Explorers" and Horwitz actually physically follows those routes. In the prologue we find the author visiting Plymouth and to his surprise, finding that Plymouth rock looked more like a "fossilized potato!" After conversing with a local park ranger, Horwitz begins to realize that there is a century of lost historical information commonly left out between 1492 (the sailing of Columbus from Spain) and 1620 (the accepted date for the arrival of the pilgrims to Plymouth). The author then begins his own journey and investigation into the actual European explorers and the routes they took. His journey actually begins with the Vikings c. 985 in Newfoundland. Horwitz describes the Norse encounter with the native peoples as recorded in Norse sagas. I found it quite interesting to hear how they described the native peoples as ugly, screeching wretches-- "short, dark and evil-looking with coarse hair and broad cheek-bones." As the author points out, "To native eyes and ears, the Norse--pale, hirsute, long-faced, and speaking a strange tongue--must have seemed like ugly screeching wretches, too." Horwitz then takes the reader on the routes of Columbus, the Spanish conquistadors, the French Huguenots, and English settlers. He includes maps and engravings contemporary to the times. I had my interest piqued many times along with my desire to learn more about the history surrounding each route. The savagery and greed that accompanied these voyages was not a surprise and yet still caused me to shake my head with disgust. There are also comical moments--or should I say moments of irony. If you read the book, you will find them and understand. I recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in the true history of America as we know it. It is not a comprehensive historical narrative but it does describe the routes taken by European explorers in a way that is very, very interesting and informative.
12345-_ More than 1 year ago
Excellent weaving of history and today in the U.S. Fills in a time gap not often or deeply pursued in our schooling. Very absorbing.
harstan More than 1 year ago
Upon a visit to Massachusetts, Tony Horowitz is awed when he sees Plymouth Rock not out of it being grand sort of an American Gibraltar, but to realize it is not much more than a pebble. As one child points out, the Pilgrims must have had small feet to land on that rock. Tony reflects on what he knows about American history only to draw major blanks for over a century and half from Columbus until Jamestown. What frightens Tony is that he graduated with a history degree. Thus he vows to track the story of the European explorers who traveled American even before Columbus. Starting with the Vikings and following with the French and Spanish, Tony tracks those who came before Jamestown.------------ With a nod to Mr. Wuhl¿s HBO special Assume The Position, Tony Horowitz goes on a reverent journey tracing the paths traveled by European explorers between 1492 and 1607. On his trek, Mr. Horowitz meets many people with a differing interpretation of events like the Spanish (St. Augustine was founded forty-two years earlier than the Plymouth Rock landing) came before the Pilgrims so America should celebrate Thanksgiving with Chili. This is a fun travelogue as Mr. Horowitz¿ enthusiasm and energy add to the enjoyment quoting Mr. Wuhl: 'I shit you not'.--------- Harriet Klausner
arouse77 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
My first impression of this book was exceedingly favorable. The opening chapters commence with a self-depricating stroll past Plymouth Rock and down Amnesia Alley. The author has an engaging and witty style i found immediately enjoyable to read. If the remainder of the book had maintained this initial promise, i would be rating as one of the better peices of non-fiction i've ever encountered.perhaps not surprisingly though, the bantering tone of the early chapters did not last. once we left newfoundland (a HOTBED of hilarity, as is well known) and travelled further south, the timbre of the strory become singularly depressing, and virtually unleavened with the asides and insights that made the first portion so enjoyable. i suppose this might be partially because of the darker cast of the events post-wiking (i mean, spaniards vs. norsemen in a contest of levity? foregone conclusion!) but the feeling i got from the remainder of the book was of a singularly uninspired travelouge of places people would rarely care to visit even if one COULD be sure any of the purported historical events actually occurred there, which no one actually can.suddenly "Plymouth Pebble" doesn't seem worthy of the mockery it receives in the opening chapter!On the whole, i found this book a worthwhile read, though was disappointed with its unevenness. i felt like the momentum of the early chapters had totally dissipated by about 2/3rd though. And even though the final portions seemed long and drawn out, the end also felt rather abrupt back on the Massachusetts shore. I suppose if he hadn't raised my hopes for hilarious historical hyjinx, the overall impression would have been better. ah well.
melopher on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I enjoy American History, and I enjoyed A Voyage Long and Strange as well. I liked how he combined history with his experiences following the research trail. I did feel like it stalled out a bit somewhere in the middle, but then picked up again before too long. Tony Horwitz doesn't get real deep into the history and culture of the Native Americans, focusing instead on the idea that we--like the original explorers--are fond of perpetuating myth.
craso on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Tony Horwitz, while visiting the Plymouth Rock, wondered why so many people were interested in looking at an old cracked rock. Why was the story of the Pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving so important to Americans when other people visited and colonized America before them? Another question, why is Columbus considered to be the one who discovered America when he actually landed in what is now the Dominican Republic thinking he was in the India? Horwitz travels from an archeological investigation of a Norse colony in New Foundland, down to the Caribbean, through the American Southwest, across to Florida, up to Virginia and then back to Plymouth looking for the truth behind the discovery and colonizing of America.This book mixes in depth historical research with investigative journalism. Horwitz provides the reader with historical background and then relates his travels. He observes his surroundings and interviews people living there. His interviews are usually with park rangers, local historians, tourists, reinactors, or members of historical organizations.Horwitz writing style is both thoughtful and humorous. Racism crops up in some of the places he visits. In the Dominican Republic it's better to be of Spanish descent than Indian or black. In Virginia, many people claiming to be a descendant of Pocahontas are actually a mix of white, indian, and black. He talks with a member of an organization of whites who have been asked by Native Americans not to dress in Native American garb in public. He also relates his exasperating adventures traveling around the DR where mentioning Columbus is considered a jinx. At a ceremony he is pulled away from seeing the possible remains of Columbus by a group of bureaucrats. When sorting through all the myths and facts what is more important to people, historical truths or what they preserve to be the truth? In the end, people believe in what they are comfortable with and that is that the nation was founded by pious, hardworking Puritans.
bookwoman247 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Did Columbus redally discover the New world? Did the pilgrims really step ashore at Plymouth Rock to found the first permanent colony in what would become the United States? Was Ponce de Leon really searching for the fountain of youth? These are lessons that are learned by every American schoolchild, and are an integral part of the fabric of the American national identity and culture - but, are they true?Horwitz set out to discover, as much as possible, the truth about the discovery and colonization of the New World, with almost all of the emphasis on North America, and in particular, the United States.I found this book interesting and engaging. To use a cliché that's been beaten to death, Horwitz makes history come alive. He interviewed many interesting people, and explored many landmarks and relics. This book brought home to me how many versions there are of the same historic event, and that many times, it's the small, uncelebrated events that have the greatest impact on the developement of history.
bertonek on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A fun history lesson. Horwitz combines research on 16th century explorers in the Americas with his own retracing of their routes. He is a colorful, engagin writer.
omphalos02 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Horwitz takes on American history from the "discovery" of America to the Plymouth landing. What could easily be tedious is amusing and fascinating in Horwitz's capable hands.
mcfitz on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Horwitz journeys through America to the places where the earliest European adventurers appeared. Sometimes condescending, the author succeeds in his plot to learn more about the time between Columbus and Jamestown, and passes his thoughts on to readers who he hopes are interested enough in history to care. Well-developed and written with plenty of sarcastic humor, be prepared for his sometimes smart-aleck attitudes about life then and now.
anitag99 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Best book I read in the last year! Great book to read if you're interested in American history. Hilarious and sad incidents on little known American history. Who would have thought that our forefathers were sometime cannibals in desperate times?
Othemts on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Tony Horwitz is one of my favorite writers. His books are the place where two of my favorite subjects - history & travel - meet. This book is no exception as it is prompted by his curiosity of what happened between Columbus' first voyage in 1492 and the settlement of Plymouth in 1620. This period of nearly a century & a half is often neglected in popular history and sometimes even in classroom history. To answer this question, Hortwitz travels across North America in the footsteps of explorers, traders, conquistadors and colonists from the Norse to the Spanish, French, and English.I tend to know a bit more than average American about this period in American history, but there were a few surprises for me in this book. For example, I never knew that French Huguenots settled at Fort Caroline in present-day Jacksonville, Florida only to be massacred by the Spanish. I know of Columbus' bad treatment of the "Indians" but didn't know that his first voyage was relatively peaceful and it was only in his later travels when he was mistakenly made a colonial administrator that he oversaw genocidal madness. The extent of De Soto and Coronado's journeys within the current United States boundaries was eye-opening as well.Horwitz's travels take him to:Newfoundland for the remnants of Norse settlements from 1000 years ago.The Dominican Republic to explore the land that Columbus so poorly administered.De Vaca's route along the Gulf Coast.Coronado's journeys through the Southwest and Plains.Through the Southeast and across the Mississippi with De Soto.French & Spanish settlements in Florida.The "Lost Colony" of Roanoke on North Carolina's Outer BanksThe English Settlements of Jamestown and Plymouth.Horwitz balances appreciation for the hardships and hardiness of these explorers with an honest appraisal of their greed and cruelty. He's also amazing in his ability to find people who are connected with these stories whether they be descendants or merely fascinated with the period of history. One Pamunkey Indian even teases Horwitz for his tenacity in trying to get the story. "You are hard to get rid of, just like those damned English."This is a great book for anyone wanting to catch up on the history they may have slept through in high school written in a lively and humorous style. Another great volume for Hortwitz's oeuvre.Favorite Passages:"People thing the conquistadors were mad and greedy, always searching for pay dirt," Walter said, over the clank and crush of machinery. "Well, here we are, still digging." He took a long drag on his cigarette. "Those evil Spaniards weren't aliens, they were us. Get rich quick -- that's the American dream, isn't it?" - p. 149

Seven Cities of Gold, the Isle of the Amazons, El Dorado - these weren't wild fantasies to the Spanish, they were vivid realities, just waiting to be found. Europeans often wrote disdainfully of Indian "superstition" - while marching through jungles and mountains in pursuit of their own potent myths. - p. 193

[Reverend Gomes] smiled benignly, as I imagined he might at a bewildered parishioner. "Myth is more important than history. History is arbitrary, a collection of facts. Myth we choose, we create we perpetuate.He spooned up the last of his succotash. "The story here may not be correct, but it transcends truth. It's like religion -- beyond facts. Myth trumps fact, always does, always has, always will." - p. 387.
debnance on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I bought this on pure impulse after hearing Cokie Roberts speak and visiting the bookstore that sponsored her talk. It was the best impulse buy I¿ve made. Why, oh why, can¿t textbooks read like Tony Horwitz? Lots of information, yes, but info interspersed with cool stories. Everything you always wanted to know about American explorers. Some I wish I hadn¿t learned (DeSoto wasn¿t a nice guy, for example.)
NewsieQ on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Fountain of Youth, John Smith and Pocahontas, the First Thanksgiving -- they're all subjects of Tony Horwitz's peppery debunking of myths of American history. The investigative journalist tells us what REALLY happened after (and even before) Christopher Columbus "discovered" America in 1492 and before 1620, when the Pilgrims stepped out of their ships onto Plymouth Rock. The book is part history and part travelogue -- and the author is just the person to take us along for the ride. Most of the stories are on the violent and/or bloodthirsty side-- and some of our "heroes" are certainly not people to emulate. Finding traces of earlier civilizations isn't always easy (and there usually aren't Marriott hotels on the roads the author travels), but the places he visits and the people he meets are endlessly fascinating. As usual, Tony Horwitz delivers!
jennyo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I loved Blue Latitudes and Confederates in the Attic. So much so that I made two different book clubs read them. I was a little disappointed in this book though. Not sure why. It has many of the same elements as the other two books...humor, history, travelogue...but it just didn't feel as cohesive as the others. Like maybe there was too much story for a single book. I'm not exactly sure. It's been a while since I read it, so I'm going on my memory, which hasn't been too reliable of late.Ah, found my old review, so here it is too, just to compare with my current recollection:Just finished this newest Tony Horwitz book last night. Horwitz is one of my favorite non-fiction writers, especially when he's writing about history. In this book, he visited Plymouth Rock and then got to thinking about all those Europeans who got to America before the Pilgrims did. And then he researched 10 of them and presented their stories in this book. Like all of Horwitz's work, it's fascinating and witty. But this one felt dense too. It may just be that I've been distracted a lot by life lately, but it took me a long time to get through this one. I always wanted to get back to it, just couldn't seem to find the time or energy. I'd still recommend it though. And I really liked what Horwitz had to say about myth vs. fact at the end of the book. Those few pages were worth the whole read.
nbmars on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
When the Pilgrims arrived in Massachusetts in 1620, they were greeted in English by the Indian Samoset, who asked them for a beer. Thus begins Tony Horwitz¿s debunking of America¿s foundational myths, along with the account of his own attempt to retrace the footsteps of the earliest explorers in the New World.Like his book ¿Confederates in the Attic,¿ Horwitz blends historical revelations of the past with impressions from the present, the latter gained through a great deal of courage, audacity, and humor. And like the former book, Horwitz doesn¿t make a complete survey of the period under study, but gives us a soupcon; just enough of a taste to interest us in finding out more on our own.He starts at Plymouth Rock, and then takes a step backwards in time, to Norse explorers and then to Columbus, who upon arriving at San Salvador, knelt and thanked God ¿who had requited them after a voyage so long and strange.¿ Columbus left with some souvenirs (i.e., natives) and began going back and forth between Spain and the Caribbean, always looking for riches. He never found them in the New World, but did manage to decimate the native population.Other Spanish would-be conquerors in search of gold followed, and moved up into the American South and Southwest. Horowitz takes a car trip that follows the paths of Coronado and De Soto, and learns about the surprising areas explored by them as well as the cruelties they committed en route. He stops at Jamestown and Roanoke, and tells us what he learns about Sir Walter Raleigh, John Smith, and Pocahontas (not much of it resembling the stories currently promulgated). (Pocahontas, for example, was only ten years old when John Smith arrived; it was John Rolfe she married, and not necessarily on a voluntary basis.)Horwitz isn¿t given to deep analysis; he devotes a sentence or two to the racism behind behaviors towards the Indians, and a few paragraphs to the importance of myths that retain their hold on people in spite of facts indicating otherwise. Americans don¿t so much *study* history, he claims, as *shop* for it. ¿The past (is) a consumable, subject to the national preference for familiar products.¿But Horwitz still has fun, as do his readers, even while uncovering some bitter truths. If this results in more people becoming aware of more history, who can complain?
cdogzilla on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Engaging overview of the history of European journeys to the New World from the Norse in Vinland ca. 1000 AD up to the arrival of the Mayflower. Fun, if slight, but pointing to intriguing depths.
keywestnan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An excellent addition to Tony Horwitz's growing list of historical travelogues, or maybe they should be called traveling histories -- anyway what he does is retrace the geography of history and look for signs in the surviving landscape. This was most brilliant in Confederates in the Attic, still my favorite of Horwitz's books, but this is a worthy successor. Horwitz's specific subject is European contact in North America between Columbus and the Pilgrims. There's lots there, especially about the Spanish, that has been pretty much forgotten from popular American history. Horwitz's book is a valuable -- and entertaining -- reminder.
mojomomma on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Horwitz tracks down and follows the actual steps of the many early explorer's who came to the U.S. before the Pilgrims, the Vikings, the Spaniards, and the Jamestown settlements.
cbl_tn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I paid attention in history class. Either I missed the significance of most of the content Tony Horwitz covers in this book, or it simply wasn't included in my textbooks. Horwitz looks at European contact with the New World of North America preceding the Mayflower's arrival at Plymouth. From this perspective, the settlement at Plymouth marked the end of an era rather than a beginning.The biggest surprises for me involved Spanish expeditions in what is now the United States. I had no idea that Spanish conquistadors traveled outside of the southwestern states, Florida, and the Gulf Coast. It was a revelation to learn that Coronado's route took him into the heart of Kansas. It was an even bigger revelation to learn that De Soto's route went right through my home territory of East Tennessee. Yes, I knew he had discovered the Mississippi River, but I had formed an erroneous impression that he discovered it by navigating up from the Gulf, not that he came across it during an overland journey that began in Florida.One of my favorite sections of the book is the note on sources and the 12-page bibliography. Chapter by chapter, Horwitz points the reader to primary sources available for that chapter's topic (often a translated and published diary, journal, or log) and to the best of the secondary sources on that topic. I added at least a dozen items to my TBR list -- some to buy and some to borrow from the library. At the top of the list are books about De Soto's journey that took him through East Tennessee.Recommended to readers looking for an overview of European exploration and discovery of North America. Readers of travel literature will enjoy reading about Horwitz's experiences as he followed the routes of these early explorers.