A Voyage Long and Strange: Rediscovering the New World

A Voyage Long and Strange: Rediscovering the New World

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by Tony Horwitz

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On a visit to Plymouth Rock, Tony Horwitz realizes he's mislaid more than a century of American history, from Columbus's sail in 1492 to Jamestown's founding in 1607. Determined to find out what happened in between, he follows in the footsteps of the many Europeans who preceded the Pilgrims to America. Vikings, conquistadors, French voyageurs, and many others

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On a visit to Plymouth Rock, Tony Horwitz realizes he's mislaid more than a century of American history, from Columbus's sail in 1492 to Jamestown's founding in 1607. Determined to find out what happened in between, he follows in the footsteps of the many Europeans who preceded the Pilgrims to America. Vikings, conquistadors, French voyageurs, and many others roamed an unknown continent in quest of grapes, gold, converts, even a cure for syphilis. Though most failed, their remarkable exploits left an enduring mark on the land and people encountered by late-arriving English settlers.

Editorial Reviews

Like most of us, Tony Horwitz clings to a "great moments" view of American history. He knows that Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492 and that Jamestown was founded in "sixteen-oh-something." Between those dates, Horwitz can probably envisage nothing more spectacular than Native Americans hunting quail and huddling around campfires. To gain a more precise perspective, the author of Blue Latitudes embarked on a sometimes arduous, sometimes whimsical journey of rediscovery. Along the way, he tracked the metaphorical footsteps of the numerous Europeans who preceded the Pilgrims and the Virginia settlers.
Andrew Ferguson
…[a] funny and lively new travelogue…popular history of the most accessible sort. The pace never flags, even for easily distracted readers, because Horwitz knows how to quick-cut between historical narrative and a breezy account of his own travels. It's the same method he used in [Confederates in the Attic,] deployed with the same success, and unlike many other, less journalistic histories, in which the material is displayed at a curator's remove, it has the immense value of injecting the past into the present—showing us history as an element of contemporary life, something that still surrounds us and presses in on us, whether we know it or not. Usually not.
—The New York Times
Nina Burleigh
Horwitz traveled from Newfoundland to the Dominican Republic, throughout the American South and Southwest and up to New England, vastly different zones once equally uncharted, now distinct and unrelated. On the road, he spent part of his time reading historical books informing him of what happened in these spots, and then part of his time seeking out guides who led him to the sites, or shared the local lore as it has been handed down through the centuries. He has an ear for a good yarn and an instinct for the trail leading to an entertaining anecdote, and he deftly weaves his reportorial finds with his historical material…In the end, this romp through the 16th century will be an amusing addition to a summer beach bag
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Horwitz was a smart choice to read his wonderful book about all he-and we-didn't know about American history, and he's done an excellent abridgement , choosing parts from his long work that work best in audio form. This is as far from a series of history lectures as most listeners could hope. Imagine meeting the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Confederates In The Attic at your favorite coffee shop and listening to him tell you, with a voice filled with amazement, a few of the surprising things he learned after visiting Plymouth Rock and realizing how little he knew of what happened in America before the Pilgrims arrived. This audio experience will have listeners hoping for a refill with Horwitz. A Holt hardcover (Reviews, Mar. 10).
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Realizing that his knowledge of American history between Columbus's discovery and Plymouth Rock over 100 years later was sketchy at best, Pulitzer Prize-winning former journalist Horwitz (Confederates in the Attic) sets out to educate himself with his own explorations. He intertwines his experiences retracing the early conquistadors, adventurers, and entrepreneurs through such regions as Newfoundland, the Dominican Republic, and the American South, Southwest, and New England with thoroughly researched accounts of the territories themselves, the natives who were historically affected, and the motives of the explorers. Along the way, Horwitz meets many interesting people who have studied and/or appropriated the early discoverers for their own purposes: a conquistador reenactor who likens De Soto to a drug lord, the Zuni tribe of New Mexico, an expert on 16th-century combat, the fraternal Improved Order of the Red Men, and the Dominican belief in a Columbus jinx. At the end of his journey, Horwitz recognizes that all the truths he uncovered will never quash the myths of American history, especially the Pilgrim mystique. This readable and vastly entertaining history travelog is highly recommended for public libraries.
—Margaret Atwater-Singer

Kirkus Reviews
Irreverent, effervescent reexamination of early exploration in the Americas by peripatetic, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Horwitz (The Devil May Care: 50 Intrepid Americans and Their Quest for the Unknown, 2003, etc.). What do Americans really know about the discovery of their continent? Visiting the sadly puny Plymouth Rock prompted this energetic, likable author to delve into the historic record and sniff out the real story behind America's creation myth, from one section of the country to the other. The Vikings arrived first around 1000 CE, when Leif Eiriksson settled for a spell in Newfoundland, enjoying the grapes and mild weather before being run off by the native Skraelings. Horwitz sought out the probable descendants of these natives, the Micmac, who invited him to a cleansing ceremony in their sweat lodge. Next, the author studied the mixed-up voyages of Columbus, whose ignorance of the globe led him to believe that the eastern Bahamas, where he first landed, was the Orient. While the Spanish were claiming the Caribbean, Mexico and Peru, Ponce de Le-n, a veteran of Columbus's second voyage, struck Daytona Beach in 1513 and named the land La Florida. Alvar Nu-ez Cabeza de Vaca made inroads through Florida and Texas between 1528 and 1536, while ruthless Hernando de Soto cut throughout the South a pitiless swath of destruction and slaughter of natives. These voyages came long before Sir Walter Raleigh sent English colonists to settle on Roanoke Island, Va., in 1585. By 1540, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado penetrated the Southwest from Mexico in search of fabled cities, and in Florida, a little-known Huguenot settlement established in 1564 at La Caroline was wiped out by Spanishinvaders. The author revisited all of these sites to speak to the locals, who are often as colorful as the forgotten history he was tracking. Accessible to all ages, hands-on and immensely readable, this book invites readers to search out America's story for themselves. Agent: Kris Dahl/ICM. $250,000 ad/promo
From the Publisher

“Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Horwitz has presented what could be described as a guide for those who are historically ignorant of the "lost century" between the first voyage of Columbus and the establishment of Jamestown in 1607. In this informative, whimsical, and thoroughly enjoyable account, Horwitz describes the exploits of various explorers and conquistadores and enriches the stories with his own experiences when visiting some of the lands they "discovered." Horwitz writes in a breezy, engaging style, so this combination of popular history and travelogue will be ideal for general readers.” —Booklist (starred review)

“Irreverent, effervescent… accessible to all ages, hands-on and immensely readable, this book invites readers to search out America 's story for themselves.” —Kirkus Reviews

“This readable and vastly entertaining history travelogue is highly recommended.” —Library Journal (starred review)

“Funny and lively…popular history of the most accessible sort. The stories [Horwitz] tells are full of vivid characters and wild detail.” —The New York Times Book Review

“A romp through the sixteenth century…. Horwitz has an ear for a good yarn and an instinct for the trail leading to an entertaining anecdote.” —The Washington Post

“Honest, wonderfully written, and heroically researched…. Horwitz unearths whole chapters of American history that have been ignored.” —Boston Globe

“Like travel writer Bill Bryson, Horwitz has a penchant for meeting colorful characters and getting himself into bizarre situations.” —The Christian Science Monitor

“A sweeping history.… A fascinating story, filled with adventure, Vikings, French voyageurs and those Pilgrims.” —The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“Horwitz is a very funny writer.” —Bloomberg News

“A winning and eye-opening read.… Horwitz's charm, smarts, impeccable research and curiosity make this a voyage worth taking.” —The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)

“By conveying our past so heartily, handsomely and winsomely, Tony Horwitz does America proud.” —The Providence Journal

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Gale Group
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Read an Excerpt

A Voyage Long and Strange

Rediscovering the New World

By Tony Horwitz

Henry Holt and Company

Copyright © 2008 Tony Horwitz
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-3773-3



There was now much talk of looking for new lands.

— The Saga of the Greenlanders

THE STORY OF America's discovery by Europeans begins with a fugitive. Eirik the Red fled his native Norway, the sagas say, "because of some killings." Settling in Iceland, Eirik took up farming and feuded with a neighbor, Filth-Eyjolf. Then he slew Filth, as well as Hrafn the Dueller. Banished for the murders, Eirik moved to islands off Iceland's coast and lent bedsteads to a man named Thorgest. When the loan went bad, Eirik killed Thorgest's sons, "along with several other men."

Exiled again — this time by the Thing, or regional assembly — Eirik headed west, like so many outlaws a millennium later. He sailed from Iceland to pioneer a glacial frontier he called Greenland, "as he said people would be attracted to go there if it had a favorable name."

Greenland today has no arable soil; three-quarters of its surface is sheet ice. Eirik, however, arrived during a long warming trend in the North Atlantic. Greenland in A.D. 985 wasn't a garden spot, but nor was volcanic Iceland or the treeless Faeroe Islands, another extremity the Vikings had settled. Eirik and his followers raised stock along Greenland's coastal fringe, founding a colony that would grow to several thousand Norse and carry on a lively trade with Europe in luxury goods, such as polar bears and walrus tusks.

Eirik seems to have mellowed in Greenland, or at least stopped killing. The only strife following his arrival was domestic; Eirik's wife converted to Christianity and refused to sleep with her pagan husband, "much to his displeasure." By then, the couple had several grown sons, including Leif, who was large, strong, "and wise, as well as being a man of moderation in all things." Eirik the Red also had an illegitimate daughter, Freydis, who took after her hotheaded and homicidal father. Her moment comes later in this saga.

There are two versions of what happened next. Both tell of mariners who became lost while sailing the North Atlantic (the Norse word hafvalla, meaning "disoriented at sea," appears often in the sagas). In Eirik the Red's Saga, known in abridged form to many Americans, Leif Eiriksson left Norway for Greenland and "chanced upon land where he had not expected any to be found." He gathered wondrous plants and on his way home rescued shipwrecked sailors. "Afterwards he became known as Leif the Lucky."

But The Saga of the Greenlanders tells a fuller and less gallant story. In this version, it was a storm-tossed mariner named Bjarni Herjólfsson, who, while sailing for Greenland, first stumbled on a shore unknown to the Norse. For five days, Bjarni sailed along the coast, resisting the entreaties of his men, who wanted to go ashore. "No," Bjarni replied. "For this country seems to me to be worthless."

Even without a thousand years' hindsight, Bjarni's instincts seemed suspect. "Many people thought him short on curiosity," the saga says of Bjarni's cool reception upon reaching Greenland, "since he had nothing to tell of these lands." Leif, a more intrepid soul, bought Bjarni's ship and sailed with thirty-five men to explore the mysterious territory. He arrived at a mountainous shore where a "single flat slab of rock" ran from glaciers to the water. Leif hadn't yet developed his father's flair for salesmanship. He named his find Stone Slab Land.

After a second stop, at a wooded shore Leif called Forest Land, the Norse reached an island where "they found dew on the grass, which they collected in their hands and drank of, and thought they had never tasted anything as sweet." Nearby lay a headland and a river full of salmon. The Norse built "large houses" and settled in. "It seemed to them the land was so good, that livestock would need no fodder during winter. The temperature never dropped below freezing and the grass only withered slightly." To Nordic eyes, a terrestrial Valhalla.

Forays inland revealed another marvel. A man called Tyrkir, who hailed "from a more southerly country" than the Norse, wandered off and returned "pleased about something." At first he babbled in German and made strange faces. Then Tyrkir reported in Norse that he'd found grapes. From the description of his mood and manner, it seems he'd somehow become drunk on them.

"Are you really sure of this?" Leif asked about the fruit. Norsemen loved wine but lived too far north to recognize the plant it came from. "I'm absolutely sure," Tyrkir replied, "because where I was born there was no lack of grapevines and grapes."

Leif put his men to work collecting the fruit, cutting vines, and felling trees to load his ship. Then he sailed for Greenland. "It is said that the boat which was drawn behind the ship was filled with grapes." Leif also carried home an appealing name for his discovery: Vinland, or Land of Wine.

When the fog lifted, fifteen minutes' drive from the airport, I caught my first glimpse of the newfound land. A sign appeared by the Trans-Canada Highway, bearing a pictograph of a huge antlered beast looming over a crushed sedan. "Caution: Moose May Wander onto Highway." The road dipped into a swale between two lakes, and fog enveloped me again. It was 4:30 A.M., dawn in midsummer Newfoundland, and rush hour for moose. For the next fifty miles, the only vehicle on the road apart from my rental car was an ambulance streaking the other way, its siren screaming. Sleep-deprived after my flight through the night, I imagined a moose-crushed motorist inside.

The next sign I saw was for the "Dildo B & B," and then a road marker, reporting the distance to the nearest town: 170 kilometers. Strange that the first territory in America discovered by Europeans should become, a millennium later, among its least inhabited. To keep myself awake, I turned on the Canadian Broadcasting Service, which filled the early-morning hours with English-language broadcasts from around the world. I tuned in just in time for Radio Sweden and a program on Nordic cuisine.

The show opened with a woman yoiking, then segued to an interview with a Swedish Jew. "Do you eat moose?" the host asked.

"I am not certain it is kosher," his guest replied. "But most Jews will eat moose if they feel like it."

A Saami followed, talking about reindeer tongue. Then Swedish radio gave way to Czech radio and then the BBC, carrying me through to the breakfast hour. Finally reaching a sliver of civilization, I slowed beside a small restaurant and store. The sign in front of it read:

Live Worms
Cod Tongues

Like moose being kosher, cods having tongues wasn't something I'd ever considered. Opting for coffee, I drove on, past another warning sign, recording the alarming toll of "Moose/Vehicle Accidents" over the past year. Snowcapped mountains rose in the distance. Then I saw what I'd come for: a sign decorated with a logo of a longship and the words "Viking Trail." Steering onto the trail, I headed toward the most northeasterly point on the continent reachable by car: L'Anse aux Meadows, site of the first European settlement in America.

"Saga" stems from a Norse word for "say." It refers to spoken accounts of the Viking Age (roughly, A.D. 800 to 1050) that were later written down by medieval clerics. Sagas tell of real people, real places, and real events, typically feuds. The prose is matter-of-fact. But sagas also inhabit a twilight zone where the normal and the paranormal intersect.

In Eirik the Red's Saga, a woman heads for the outhouse, only to find her way blocked by ghosts. In Vinland, a Viking is slain by a one-legged man-beast wielding a bow and arrow. "There was a man named Ulf," one saga begins, "son of Bjalfi and of Hallbera, the daughter of Ulf the Fearless. She was the sister of Hallbjorn Half-troll from Hrafnista."

Needless to say, such passages have cast doubt on the sagas' reliability as historical sources. Adding to the doubt is the way sagas were transmitted. The Christian scribes who first recorded them, several centuries after the events they describe, thought little of massaging tales about their pagan forebears. Later editors and translators added their own spin, differing on the sequence of scenes and the meaning of Norse phrases. In short, the sagas we read today are many generations removed from the stories first told around hearths in the far North Atlantic a thousand years ago.

The sagas also have a history of inspiring romantic fictions. When English translations of the Vinland sagas reached a wide American audience in the 1830s, evidence of Vikings suddenly began surfacing across New England. Antiquarians declared that a mysterious stone tower in Newport, Rhode Island, was actually Norse-built, and that a nearby grave containing both bones and metal belonged to an ancient warrior. "I was a Viking old!" Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote of the grave in his popular poem "The Skeleton in Armor."

Later in the nineteenth century, the locus of Viking finds moved to the upper Midwest, home to Scandinavian émigrés who were eager to elevate one of their own as the continent's founder. (America Not Discovered by Columbus was the title of a popular 1874 history by a Wisconsin scholar of Danish descent.) The most renowned find, the Kensington Stone in Minnesota, bore a runic inscription that told of Goths and Norwegians who journeyed there from Vinland. Countless other runes cropped up across the heartland, as far away as Heavener, Oklahoma. How and why the seafaring Norse had traveled to landlocked states was never made clear.

Nor did any of these claims withstand close scrutiny by scholars and archaeologists. The Newport tower turned out to be a seventeenth-century windmill, and Longfellow's "Viking old" a Wampanoag Indian, buried with a colonial English kettle. The Kensington Stone was exposed as an elaborate fake, carved by the Swedish stonemason who "found" it on his farm in 1898. Other runes were determined to be Indian petroglyphs, glacial scratches, or marks left by farm tools.

It was, therefore, with considerable skepticism that scholars greeted news in 1961 of yet another discovery of Norse remains, this time by a Norwegian. Helge Ingstad, a lawyer by training and adventurer by avocation, had embarked at the age of sixty on what seemed a quixotic mission. Following vague clues in the sagas, as well as ecclesiastical records and old maps that mentioned Vinland, he set off to survey the entire northeast Atlantic coast for traces of Norse visitation a thousand years earlier. This quest eventually led him to Newfoundland, which juts so far east that it almost crosses into Greenland's time zone. If, as the sagas seemed to suggest, Leif Eiriksson sailed the far North Atlantic and then coasted south, he would have bumped into Newfoundland's northern tip.

Traveling by boat, Ingstad heard about ancient house sites near the remote fishing village of L'Anse aux Meadows. Landing at the village dock, he followed a fisherman to a grassy plateau that bore the faint imprint of vanished dwellings. Locals called this "the Indian camp," but to Ingstad the setting was reminiscent of Norse farmsteads he'd seen in Greenland.

The next summer, Ingstad and his archaeologist wife, Anne Stine, commenced excavations. Over the next eight years, they and an international team uncovered dwellings and artifacts like those found at known Viking sites. Radiocarbon dating and other tests put the remains at around A.D. 1000. And so, in 1978, UNESCO named L'Anse aux Meadows its first world heritage site, the only confirmed Norse settlement yet discovered in America. The sagas, it turned out, had been right.

The Viking Trail ran for hours along a bare coastal plain. The few settlements I passed were functional to the point of austerity: tidy unadorned houses, plain churches, and Soviet-style groceries with signs saying "Food." The only radio station I could pick up issued fisheries broadcasts from Labrador. Even the moose signs disappeared.

Exhausted and bored by the daylong drive, I started to feel sympathy for Bjarni Herjólfsson. If the coast he stumbled on looked anything like this, he could be forgiven for thinking America "worthless." Later visitors concurred in his judgment. Jacques Cartier, who coasted Newfoundland in 1534, called it "the land that God gave to Cain."

At the top of the island, the road cut east through stony rubble, peat bogs, and glacial lakes. Then the Viking Trail forked and I followed one branch to its end at a seaside cliff. Stepping from my car, I was greeted by a frigid wind and a view of sheer rock enclosing a narrow inlet: a fjord. Sheltered within it was what looked like a sinking cruise ship, huge and white and listing. It took me a moment to register "iceberg," a thing I'd never seen outside an IMAX theater.

The Viking Trail's other fork led to L'Anse aux Meadows, a name that sounds deceptively lovely and lush, like "Flanders fields." It's actually a corruption of the original French: Anse à la Médée, or Medea's Bay, after the mythological Greek murderess. I passed another iceberg and patches of snow. Then the few stunted trees vanished and the view opened up: subarctic heath rolling down to the sea. It was beautiful but bleak, and so cold even in summer that my breath clouded as I stepped from the car.

The road ended at a wharf and a dozen or so homes by the water. At a gas station an hour earlier, I'd learned that a man named Tom kept a tour boat at L'Anse's dock. This seemed a nice way to start my exploration, viewing the coast from the water, as the Vikings had done. But the only person at the dock was a man in a parked car with a cap pulled low on his brow. I tapped on his closed window and asked where I might find Tom and his boat.

"No icebergs here," the man replied, barely lowering his window.

"I don't want to see icebergs," I said.

"What do you want to see?"

"Where the Vikings came in."

"No Vikings here, never were," he said. "No sir. That's all bullshit. They'd a found a better place than this. In the winter it's not fit to live in." He rolled up his window and drove off.

Across the way, I saw an old man emerge from a small home and walk over to pet a goat. A sign in his yard said, "For Sale Wool Socks," which I realized I could use. Wandering over, I commented on the chill.

"This is a hot day, today," he answered, lifting his wool sweater to reveal a sweatshirt, flannel jersey, and T-shirt beneath. "Almost naked, I am."

The man was Job Anderson, one of the locals who'd helped the Ingstads when they started excavations in the 1960s. "Work was scarce, so I said yes," Job recalled. He mentioned that his grandfather was Norwegian, and I asked if this had given him any sense of identity with the Vikings whose homes he'd helped unearth.

"Too far back," Job replied. "I can't tell you no lies. I never ran with them. I'm old, but not that old." Then he broke into song: "Born here in the morning, quarter after two, with me hands in me pocket, and me old ragadoo." When I looked at him blankly, he said, "A ragadoo's a coat."

Job patted his goat. "She'll live till she dies, this one." I nodded, bought a pair of socks, and retreated to my car, bewildered by my first contact with Newfoundlanders. Were they having fun with me? Or were they all barking mad?

In the sagas, little is told of Leif Eiriksson after his voyage to Vinland. But his siblings took up where he left off, leading several follow-up expeditions to the Land of Wine. First, a brother named Thorvald sailed west and wintered in the camp Leif had established. During a summertime tour of the surrounding waters, Thorvald sailed up a fjord and found a forested cape with a sheltered cove. "This is an attractive spot," he declared, "and here I would like to build my farm."

Then the Norse noticed what looked like three hillocks on the beach. "Upon coming closer they saw they were hide-covered boats, with three men under each of them." The sagas devote only a few lines to this epochal moment: the first recorded encounter between Europeans and Native Americans, two branches of humanity that had been separated so long they barely recognized each other as kin.

When and how the first people reached America is a subject of keen debate, roiled by recent archaeological finds and new genetic and linguistic evidence. It's generally believed that early humans migrated out of Africa some fifty thousand years ago, with one stream eventually reaching northeast Asia, at about the same time and latitude as others settled the northwest corner of Europe. Near the end of the last Ice Age, roughly twelve thousand years ago, hunters crossed from Asia to today's Alaska before spreading across the Americas. Then another eleven thousand years passed before the family of man reunited — or, rather, collided — on a beach in eastern Canada.

In the sagas, the word for "native" is Skraeling, an archaic Norse term that is variously translated as "wretch," "ugly," "screecher," or some combination of the three. Natives are also described as short, dark, and "evil-looking," with coarse hair and broad cheekbones. Of course, we only hear one side of the story. To native eyes and ears, the Norse — pale, hirsute, long-faced, and speaking a strange tongue — must have seemed like ugly screeching wretches, too.


Excerpted from A Voyage Long and Strange by Tony Horwitz. Copyright © 2008 Tony Horwitz. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

Tony Horwitz is the bestselling author of Midnight Rising, A Voyage Long and Strange, 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 Martha's Vineyard with his wife, Geraldine Brooks, and their two sons.

Brief Biography

Waterford, Virginia
Date of Birth:
Place of Birth:
Washington, D.C.
B.A., Brown University; M.A., Columbia University School of Journalism

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Voyage Long and Strange 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 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.
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.
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.
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
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curiousMO More than 1 year ago
When I read the outline on B&N before buying, I thought this sounded like the very thing I had always wondered about our country before the arrival of Columbus. The author, Mr. Horwitz, did some astounding research--literally trekking by car and on foot, to see the land/trails and talk with locals about historical facts/myths. His writing is full of detail and his story has humor in things as they happened to him. If you like history and would like to learn more about the USA before Columbus and the Pilgrims, I would recommend this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Horwitz sets the record straight on many long-known and long-ignored aspects of US history, including the role of the Conquistadors and those who followed them. In the latter parts he has difficulty maintaining the momentum of early history. His personal voyages in the Southwest may be interesting but they're really not part of the same message. Despite that this is an important book for interested Americans to read. They'll learn more about early North American history, but next to nothing about the countries that were settled and developed much earlier than the US, such as Cuba and Brazil.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
KirbeeN More than 1 year ago
I am already a Horwitz fan, having read and reread Confederates in the Attic. I happened to see this on the discount shelf at B&N, so I snatched it up. It is excellent. Hortwitz finds himself, a history major, sadly lacking in any real understanding of America's earliest explorers and settlers (we're talking pre-Columbus, pre-Pilgrim). He goes on a quest, of sorts, to track down the obscured stories of America's real early explorers, in all their colorful, baudy, violent blend of reality and myth. Hint: it includes Vikings who settled in Canada, Spaniards who explored the Great Plains, and Frenchmen who founded cities in Florida. Most people find history, especially the version of early U.S. history we all learned, stale. Hortwitz's style of writing is engaging and just fun. He doesn't give you a history lecture, but more of a travelogue of the places and people he finds during his trips across Canada and America. History lover or not, you'll love this book. It's a true laugh-out-loud read that teaches you what you wish history class in grade school could have been about.
AlissaH More than 1 year ago
Half history book, half travel journal; Tony Horwitz rediscovers early American history by retracing the steps of the early settlers. Starting with the Norse in 1000AD up to the Pilgrims, Tony investigates the unadulterated history of our past. Always interesting and sometimes disturbing, ranging from topics such as the Spanish Conquistadors to the first Thanksgiving, this book will shake the foundation of what you thought you knew. Beware though- there are some hard truths in this book that most people may not be able to handle. But if you are the kind of person who doesn't believe that ignorance is bliss, then this book is for you.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I guess if your think that Columbus was the first this book would be enlightening, or if you never paid any attention in history class and never watched any of the science/history channels on tv (too busy with sitcoms and American idol) this book would be helpful. It is one step above grade school history. Any avid reader of history or precolumbian exploration will be very disappointed in this book.