Sir Walter Ralegh and the Quest for El Dorado

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In this extraordinarily well researched and insightful biography, Marc Aronson explores the amazing accomplishments and dismal failures of one of the most flamboyant figures of the Elizabethan age. Best remembered for laying his coat in a muddy puddle so that Queen Elizabeth I could walk across it, Sir Walter Ralegh committed himself to pleasing his monarch and obtaining power in her court. He heroically risked his life in battle time and again, chasing after glory to win her favor. His notoriously ill-fated ...

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In this extraordinarily well researched and insightful biography, Marc Aronson explores the amazing accomplishments and dismal failures of one of the most flamboyant figures of the Elizabethan age. Best remembered for laying his coat in a muddy puddle so that Queen Elizabeth I could walk across it, Sir Walter Ralegh committed himself to pleasing his monarch and obtaining power in her court. He heroically risked his life in battle time and again, chasing after glory to win her favor. His notoriously ill-fated quest for the mythological golden city of El Dorado was perhaps his grandest attempt, but it also was his undoing, and Ralegh ultimately paid for his mistakes with his life. Despite his shortcomings, he was not only charismatic and brave, he was brilliant as well, and his contributions to the New World and to western culture as a whole were vast and enduring. MAPS, ENDNOTES and BIBLIOGRAPHY, TIMELINE, INDEX.

Recounts the adventurous life of the English explorer and courtier who spelled his name "Ralegh" and led many expeditions to the New World.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"The book is beutifully researched and written with wit and passion. Sweeping, multilayered nonfiction." Booklist, ALA, Starred Review

"This is an intelligent, demanding work...The text with drama, imagination, and occasional wry humor." Horn Book, Starred

"This book is exemplary nonfiction and pure gold for libraries." School Library Journal, Starred

"This title is at once lively, accessible, and challenging." The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

"provacative and tantalizing, revealing his subject as a person of canny wit and magnetism with all-too-human shortcomings" Publishers Weekly, Starred

"Reader's will be as riveted by [Aronson's] strong, dramatic writing as they are enlightened by his wide-ranging analyses." Kirkus Reviews

"For some it will be a reference source. For history lovers, it will be recreational reading." Children's Book Review Service

Children's Literature - Children's Literature
Walter Ralegh had his finger in every piece of the Elizabethan pie. He was a soldier, a courtier, an explorer, a friend of scientists and playwrights, and a poet and writer himself. He was the man of the age, and he achieved his prominence from the bottom up, working his way from the lowly position of younger son to a modest Devon farmer into the graces of Elizabeth I through sheer chutzpah and a healthy dash of arrogance. It was the arrogance which was to be the cause of his downfall at the hands of a royal executioner, but before this most cleaving of endings, what a life he lived! Aronson, author of the superb Art Attack, proves to be something of a Renaissance man himself in taking on Ralegh's world. For this is what he does. His exceptionally readable biography puts the entire milieu of Elizabeth's reign into focus--Catholic-Anglican frictions; the beginnings of the Irish conflict; privateering disguised as colonization of the Americas; effects of the Armada; and most of all, the diplomatic dances created in the court of the virgin queen. Aronson uses the grand metaphor of the English court--of Elizabeth's "virginity"--to structure his work. His effort works brilliantly, resulting in a history of the period that puts all the pieces into a recognizable whole to be enjoyed by students and adults alike. 2000, Clarion, Ages 11 up, $20.00. Reviewer: Kathleen Karr—Children's Literature
Sir Walter Ralegh—as most historians agree he spelled his name—lived a life that could be termed spectacular by nearly anyone's standards. He helped crush Irish resistance to English rule, led expeditions to South America in search of the fabled treasure of El Dorado, captained raids on Spanish merchant and naval vessels, and was for a time a personal favorite of Queen Elizabeth I. Ralegh was a complex person. He raised himself up from relatively humble origins nearly to the pinnacle of power in England, at that time one of the two or three most powerful nations on earth. He was a soldier and explorer who wrote sophisticated poetry and a book of world history that was a best-seller for years afterward. He helped put down the rebellion in Ireland, yet he spoke out on the floor of Parliament for religious tolerance. He was well-spoken and learned enough that he was made tutor to Prince Henry after Henry's father, King James I, had imprisoned Ralegh in the Tower of London. This extraordinarily thoughtful and well-researched biography brings vividly to life Sir Walter Ralegh, his contemporaries, and the society in which they lived. The author obviously is fascinated with Ralegh and the Elizabethan period and is wonderfully adept at conveying his sense of wonder and discovery to the reader. Many interesting, well-reproduced portraits, illustrations, and maps help breathe life into this far-off time and place. A lengthy Endnotes/Bibliography section, helpful time line, and well-done index add authority to this book, which is highly recommended for grades nine through twelve. Index. Illus. Maps. Source Notes. Chronology. VOYA CODES: 5Q 2P J S (Hard to imagine it being any betterwritten; For the YA with a special interest in the subject; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2000, Clarion, 222p, $20. Ages 13 to 18. Reviewer: Tom Pearson

SOURCE: VOYA, October 2000 (Vol. 23, No. 4)

School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up-A welcome book on an important historical figure in European and North American history. Scholars now agree on the spelling of the man's name as "Ralegh," so beware of possible confusion. Sir Walter led an active, ambitious, and sometimes acrimonious life. From humble beginnings to the court of Elizabeth I (who appropriately is a primary figure in the book with much insight given to her as a person and as a ruler), Sir Walter played a role in the social, political, and cultural worlds of his time. Aronson begins with an impressive cast of characters that demonstrates the vast influence of his subject: royalty, New World chiefs, conquistadors, and famous writers, all of whom are blended together to tell this complex, interesting, well-written, and readable story. While it is doubtful that Ralegh actually threw his cape down to prevent Elizabeth from stepping in a puddle, he did introduce potatoes to Ireland. The many elements of the man's personality are explored in a well-rounded and fair manner, with several examples of his own writings-from poetry to a suicide note-interspersed throughout. The quest for El Dorado has a recurring role here, just as it did in Ralegh's life, but despite the title, it is not necessarily the main thrust of the book. Well illustrated with black-and-white prints and original maps, and including thorough endnotes and a great comparative time line, this book is exemplary nonfiction and pure gold for libraries.-Andrew Medlar, Chicago Public Library, IL Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Kirkus Reviews
Forming what amounts to a trilogy with Albert Marrin's The Sea King: Sir Francis Drake and His Times (1995) and Ralph C. Staiger's Thomas Harriot, Science Pioneer (not reviewed), this absorbing story of an adventurer's adventurer takes readers from the brilliant, intrigue-ridden court of Queen Elizabeth to the unmapped reaches of North and South America, from dizzying heights of wealth and success to years of imprisonment and a traitor's death. Aronson (Art Attack: A Short Cultural History of the Avant-Garde, 1998) portrays Ralegh as an upstart who rose high thanks to prodigious intellect, ability, and ambition, plus a "taste for total risks that brought the chance of greater glory," but who was plagued, and ultimately killed, by his own misjudgments. With side excursions to Queen Elizabeth's reign and "court of love," the war with Spain, the predatory attitude with which European powers regarded the Americas, and the seductive legend of a vast hidden hoard of Inca treasure guarded by a golden man, "El Dorado," Aronson not only details Ralegh's career as soldier, sailor, explorer, writer, and schemer but consistently discusses causes, effects, and the broader significance of events large and small. Readers will be as riveted by his strong, dramatic writing as they are enlightened by his wide-ranging analyses. Illustrated with contemporary maps and prints, backed by capacious endnotes, this is as much a study of a culture at the threshold of the modern era as it is a tribute to one of the grand and grandly flawed figures who led the charge across that threshold. (index, timeline, cast of characters, author's note, map,glossary,endnotes, bibliography) (Biography. 12+)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780395848272
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 4/28/2000
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 814,470
  • Age range: 12 - 17 Years
  • Lexile: 1030L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 7.76 (w) x 9.46 (h) x 0.85 (d)

Meet the Author

Marc Aronson is the award-winning author of a wide variety of nonfiction works for younger readers, including Sir Walter Ralegh and the Quest for El Dorado, which received the first Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award. He edits and publishes young adult fiction in a special arrangement with Candlewick and lives with his wife and two sons in Maplewood, New Jersey. For more information visit

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix
Note to Readers xi
Map of Voyages to the New World xii
Cast of Characters xv
Prologue: Between Paradise and the Serpent's Mouth 1
The Golden Man 3
What Was El Dorado? 6
Rising 11
1 From Devon to the Wars 13
How England Became England 15
Family and Faith 20
The Most Grievous Calamity 21
2 The Queen's Problem 27
The Queen's Progress 29
3 Plantations 38
Gallant Captain 45
4 Fortune's Favor 47
The Lost Colony 53
5 Near to Heaven by Sea 55
6 A Land of Plenty 61
The First Colony: Ireland in America 69
An Ingenious People 73
7 Dreams and Mirages 77
An El Dorado in Ireland 79
Captains and Maids 82
8 The New Hope and the Terrible Year 87
The Armada 90
9 The Agony of John White 102
El Dorado 111
10 The Lie 113
All the World's a Stage 118
The Mother of Prizes 120
Beyond the Horizon 122
11 The Discovery of the Golden Kingdom 125
12 My Lord of Essex 143
13 Mischievous Matchivel 151
14 The Play of Treason 161
Prologue: The Royal Hunt 161
Act I James's Double Game 164
Act II Ralegh Takes Center Stage 167
Act III Plays Within Plays 172
15 The Story of Our Days 176
Endgame 180
Proving a Myth 182
Sharp Medicine 183
Endnotes and Bibliography 187
Time Line 206
Index 213
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 26, 2012

    In this well written and very well research informational book A

    In this well written and very well research informational book Aronson explores the history and genius of Sir Walter Relegh. Aronson takes the reader fluidly from being a favorite of Queen Elizabeth to his contributions to western civilization, and his famed quest for the mythical golden city of El Dorado. The passion and enthusiasm from which this story is written make it a fun and interesting read i highly recommend this book to fellow readers and lovers of history.

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