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Finding Florida: The True History of the Sunshine State

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Longlisted for the National Book Award and a Kirkus Reviews Best Nonfiction Book of the Year

Over the centuries, Florida has been many things: an unconquered realm protected by geography, a wilderness that ruined Spanish conquistadors, “god’s waiting room,” and a place to start over. Depopulated after the extermination of its original native population, today it’s home to nineteen million. The site of vicious racial violence, including massacres, slavery, and the roll-back of ...

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Finding Florida: The True History of the Sunshine State

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Overview


Longlisted for the National Book Award and a Kirkus Reviews Best Nonfiction Book of the Year

Over the centuries, Florida has been many things: an unconquered realm protected by geography, a wilderness that ruined Spanish conquistadors, “god’s waiting room,” and a place to start over. Depopulated after the extermination of its original native population, today it’s home to nineteen million. The site of vicious racial violence, including massacres, slavery, and the roll-back of Reconstruction, Florida is now one of our most diverse states, a dynamic multicultural place with an essential role in 21st-century America.

In Finding Florida, journalist T.D. Allman reclaims the remarkable history of Florida from the state’s mythologizers, apologists, and boosters. Allman traces the discovery, exploration, and settlement of Florida, its transformation from a swamp to “paradise.” Palm Beach, Key West, Miami, Tampa, and Orlando boomed, fortunes were won and lost, land was stolen and flipped, and millions arrived. The product of a decade of research and writing, Finding Florida is a highly original, stylish, and masterful work, the first modern comprehensive history of this fascinating place.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“A take-no-prisoners account . . . extremely timely and relevant.”—New York Times Book Review

“Gripping.”—Salon.com

“A magisterial rip at the state’s invaders, conquerors and rulers.”—Orlando Magazine

“A rich and lively history of Florida, minus the Disney gloss . . . [Allman] shatters five centuries of mythmaking to tell the real story. . . . A splendid rendering of the messy human story of our fourth-most populous state.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Allman’s engaging, eye-opening, and heavily researched history of Florida spans half a millennium, from the myth of Ponce de León’s Fountain of Youth to the 2012 shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, and it is a fulsome cavalcade of would-be conquistadors, epically corrupt and racist politicians, and oligarch wannabes."—Booklist

"An immense and important work."—Bookforum

"I loved Allman's extraordinary book. . . . Almost every county in Florida bears the name of a butcher, a slavedriver, a madman, a scoundrel or a thief, in a state where for half a millennium the governing mandate seems to be Defeat the Truth, Triumph over Reality. T.D. Allman's counter-narrative to all the pretty lies is a scouring hurricane of research, investigation, and soul-cleansing wrath, and I doubt there has ever been a better, or more important, book written about the Sunshine State, the birthplace of imperial hubris, American-style."—Bob Shacochis, author of The Immaculate Invasion and The Woman Who Lost Her Soul

"Equal parts social analysis, historical review, and jeremiad, Finding Florida is a passionate, often scathing, and remarkably comprehensive encounter with a confounding, contradictory, and ever-elusive place. If your idea of hell is being chained to a galley oar between a politician and a Chamber of Commerce exec, then you are likely to love this book."—Les Standiford, author of Last Train to Paradise

“Manuscripts repeatedly find their way into print that ignore the reality of Florida’s past and, in so doing, skew our understanding of what Florida has been, what it is now, what it’s likely to become, and what that means for everyone. T. D. Allman’s book turns all that on its head. It directly challenges the existing historiography with highly intelligent insight and crafting of narrative in a way that permits the reader to immerse himself in a world far from the expected one. Finding Florida is provocative to the point of daring. Thomas Jefferson claimed a little revolution was needed about every twenty years. Florida and its historiography is long overdue for one.”—Canter Brown, Jr., Professor of History, Fort Valley State University

“An extraordinary tome . . . Finding Florida offers a history lesson that is long overdue."—Birmingham Times

“For the general reader, Finding Florida is a catalyst for hearty discussions and more reading.”—Authentic Florida

Finding Florida is fascinating, comprehensive, and accessible to the non-specialist reader. While Allman covers an enormous amount of material—taking Florida from uninhabited swampland to the sidewalk culture of South Beach—he does so in such engaging ways that the reader is never overwhelmed. Indeed, each chapter is in itself a satisfying and illuminating narrative, stock full of vivid characters. Somehow he has managed to pull together a compelling read without sacrificing historical substance, a feat to which many professional historians aspire. His wry voice conveys a point of view that gently pushes readers to understand Florida as an American synecdoche.”—Glenda Gilmore, Peter V. and C. Vann Woodward Professor of History, Yale University

“Allman provides connections between events, trends, individuals, cultures, geography and geology that all worked to shape Florida’s past and our future. But the real reason to pick up this book is that it’s a ripping good read; with its fast pace, wry humor, polished prose, and compelling story, I just could not put it down.”—Thomas Van Lent, senior scientist at the Everglades Foundation

“[From] a raconteur of rare qualities . . . [one] of the fiercest and most prescient nonfiction books written about the Sunshine State in the past 40 years.”—Palm Beach Arts Paper

Finding Florida is a must-read for any Florida resident who is interested in the state’s history.”—EU Jacksonville Magazine

The New York Times Book Review - Alexandra Starr
Finding Florida is a cross between a corrective history and a passionate jeremiad, offered up as a call to arms…a take-no-prisoners account of an influential corner of the country.
Library Journal
Allman (former foreign correspondent, Vanity Fair; Miami: City of the Future) must have walked barefoot across a hot South Florida asphalt parking lot when he got the idea for Finding Florida. As the author outlines the history and image of the state from the 1500s to 2012, he criticizes all popular icons of Florida history: Ponce de Leon, Henry Flagler, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Walt Disney, and Carl Hiaasen. Allman's premise is that the popular history and popular culture of Florida are fictional, owing to promoters who did not consider the consequences of what they did to publicize this "paradise." He outlines "fascinating real-life human dramas no one could invent" such as the myth of the fountain of youth. He states that Rawlings's (The Yearling) contributions to American literature are an irrelevancy, and he labels Hiaasen as a shameless writer who makes lots of money by sneering at Florida. VERDICT Allman, a native Floridian, works to correct historical myths about his home state and pokes a hot stick at those who have made their money by perpetuating those myths. Recommended to all readers interested in Florida's history; this title will surely stimulate discussion about how popular presentations of Florida history are based primarily on attracting the tourist dollar.—Joyce Sparrow, Kenneth City, FL
Kirkus Reviews
A rich and lively history of Florida, minus the Disney gloss. "To find the real Florida you…must tear up the picture postcards! Get rid of the plumed conquistadors and Confederate cavaliers!" writes veteran journalist and native Floridian Allman (Rogue State: America at War with the World, 2004, etc.). In this colorful, sometimes angry account, he shatters five centuries of mythmaking to tell the real story of a soggy, inhospitable place with few resources, whose most memorable events are often fabrications and whose real history has been hidden by boosters and historians. Ponce de León did not discover Florida. Nor was he searching for the legendary Fountain of Youth, popularized by Washington Irving. But the courtier Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, since airbrushed out of history, did secure Florida for Spain in 1565, slaughtering Frenchmen near St. Augustine. In 1816, on Gen. Andrew Jackson's orders, Americans committed "one of the worst massacres in American history," killing hundreds of civilians in the Indian, black, and mixed-race community known as Negro Fort, now the Fort Gadsden Historic Recreation Center. A turning point in the U.S. acquisition of Florida, the massacre was followed by years of inhumane policies toward Indians and blacks. The author lambasts the work of historians who have whitewashed Florida's unseemly moments in the apparent belief that people do not like to be reminded of unpleasant things. Much of his gripping narrative focuses on key figures like Seminole resistance leader Osceola, who later became a celebrity Indian chief; industrialist Henry Flagler, one of the indefatigable promoters who made waterlogged land seem like real estate; and go-getter Walter P. Fraser, who turned St. Augustine into a travel destination and precursor of Florida theme parks. A splendid rendering of the messy human story of our fourth-most populous state.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802122308
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 2/25/2014
  • Pages: 544
  • Sales rank: 370,746
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.70 (d)

Meet the Author

T.D. Allman

T.D. Allman is the author of Miami: City of the Future, and Rogue State: America at War with the World. A native Floridian, Harvard graduate, and former Peace Corps volunteer in Nepal, Allman was for many years the foreign correspondent of Vanity Fair, and is credited with uncovering the CIA's "secret war" (a phrase he coined) in Laos. He has written about Florida for Esquire and National Geographic, and his work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Harper's, The New Republic, Rolling Stone, The Guardian, Le Monde, and The Economist, among other publications. He divides his time between Miami, New York, and the south of France.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3
( 8 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(1)

4 Star

(2)

3 Star

(2)

2 Star

(2)

1 Star

(1)

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Sort by: Showing all of 8 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 25, 2013

    I usually do not read history books, but T.D. Allman is except

    I usually do not read history books, but T.D. Allman is exceptionally funny. I really enjoyed reading this book. For example, he says Florida
    "attracts the criminally inclined" individuals that have come from some other state to do their "good" deeds in Florida.
    Anyone who gives this book a bad rating never read it, in my opinion.
    He also explains how the Ponce de Leon discovery of the Fountain of Youth is a myth. He was dead by the time the claim was made. Even the Gasparilla festival in Tampa, he calls "the front-runner in historical fakery".
    So if you think you know Florida history, compare with what you know with what he says. He also explains how Disney got to perform one the greatest land grabs in history as his lawyers helped him acquire the Disney property by first claiming it a drainage district. Then to an improvement district both with the title of Reedy Creek. And then how Disney property has no elected officials governing the two claimed cities. The city of Bay Lake, Florida, became The Magic Kingdom and the city of Reedy Creek became Lake Buena Vista. But above all they pay no taxes to the state to support all the infrastructure around the Disney property. Like I said before, anything but 4 stars means someone did not read this book. They only like to write fake evaluations, just like most of the Florida history.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 15, 2013

    a bit slanted

    While I will give it 2 stars because of the historical perspective, I will also warn the reader that this book has a very liberal slant. For example, the author portrays every civil war topic as "murder", not "battle". I finally tired of his negativity and stopped reading half way through.

    2 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 2, 2013

    Allman is the Oliverv Stone of Floridology. He imagines a vast r

    Allman is the Oliverv Stone of Floridology. He imagines a vast race-based conspiracy laced in the trappings of boosterism gone wild that ones back to Ponce de Leon.  His is a Florida without shame, hideous to the core. I left finished this strange narrative wondering if this wasn't simply Allman ridding vomiting up his childhood demons from the Tampa  Bay area,which he left for good in the 1960s for Harvard, the New York Times, and now France.  The first half of the book is a readable rehash of  recent histiorriogrphy of Florida's first few centuries, which portray the place as frontier extension of. deep Dixie dipped in a legacy of the Spanish Caribbean.  The last  half betrays a rush to the publisher to meet  a deadline; this part is shallow, episodic, poorly researched, error packed, and often simply bizarre.  But, Inhave to hand to this wily self-promoter--he's brought home the truth that there's no such thing as bad publicity when you're trying to sell a bill of goods.   

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 9, 2013

    Sounds good

    Sorry i mean 15 dollers

    1 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 25, 2014

    Interesting

    Having lived in Florida during the winter months, I decided to read about the history and background of the state. I had no idea that there had been such turmoil in its past and that three foreign countries tried to establish themselves here. I also had no idea that several of our presidents were determined to bring it under their rule.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 6, 2013

    Well told story of Florida

    As a lifelong 58 year resident of Florida I found this book fascinating and intriguing. Having lived in Tampa, Miami Lakes and Bartow Ive seen the immense growth of Florida personally. Ive always been fascinated as this book points out how many people outside the state believe it never freezes here. I would disagree that politics are more corrupt here than anywhere else in the US. I would have liked to see more on the history of the keys. Overall, the best book Ive evrer read on FL. 5 stars

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 14, 2013

    A great book that cuts through the established "American Ex

    A great book that cuts through the established "American Exceptionalism" lens through which history is usually taught. Those with Confederate leanings or believers in the Monroe Doctrine will not enjoy it.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 19, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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