A Voyage Long and Strange, by Tony Horwitz (Paperback, 2008)|
(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you want a hardcopy)
Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.
A delightful historical narrative! And quite refreshing in this age of disinformation.
While our public schools continue their relentless rewriting of history to fit the agenda of special interest groups (such as the criminal protection lobby's removal of firearms from image of Washington crossing the Delaware), it's good to come across a book based on open-minded research. Turning the conventional pattern completely backwards, Horwitz seeks information and then forms conclusions. That approach made this book a "keeper." In fact, Horwitz deftly defrocks a long list of myths, half-truths, and utter fabrications that are almost canonical today.
He defies another convention by staying on topic. If you've been offended by books the author uses to segue into political side issues, you'll be pleased at Horwitz's not doing that.
Tony Horwitz follows the centuries-long European discovery of the new world. This discovery didn't, as popular myth holds, start at Plymouth Rock. Nor, as we are told during Thanksgiving each year, did European settlement begin with the Pilgrims. In fact, those folks didn't call themselves Pilgrims--that's a label fabricated for them in much later times.
The discovery, exploration, and settlement occurred in fits and starts. It was more stumbling and bumbling than it was heroic conquest. And it was more often brutal than it was noble.
While reading this, I frequently laughed aloud. Horwitz has a knack for keeping things lively with quips, barbs, and acerbic wit. His own adventures while visiting the many places discussed in the book sometimes produced situations that were farcical enough for a few chuckles. At other times, the people he ran across were, themselves, hilarious. As entertaining as it is, the real value of this book its actual information. Horwitz doggedly pursued answers to questions, and while that pursuit provided ample basis for comedy, it also provided answers that are worth knowing.
In some cases, that research didn't provide an answer but merely proved the official propaganda wrong. There are some things we simply do not and cannot know. When a work purports to be nonfiction and yet has answers to everything, you can be fairly confident that work isn't reliable. Horwitz voyage produced some frustrations for him and left unanswered many questions that would have been nice to have answered. The fact he doesn't just plug in an answer he likes makes me fairly confident this work is reliable.
This book is about 400 pages long and contains 15 maps.
The Prologue explains why Horwitz embarked on this quest. Despite his extensive background in American history, there were large gaps. And he got to thinking about this. He shares some of those thoughts in the Prologue.
This book is divided into three Parts:
Part One consists of four chapters, one each for Vinland (mostly Lief and related Eirickssons), 1492 (Columbus, et al), Santo Domingo (Columbus again), and Hispaniola (lots of laughs and oddball characters).
Part Two devotes five chapters to the conquest. Each chapter covers a separate geographic area: Gulf Coast (an assortment of Spanish explorers, dandies, and conquistadors), Southwest (to the seven cities of stone), the plains (the sea of grass that seemed to swallow up many explorers and potential settlers), the South (De Soto does Dixie), and the Mississippi. On that last one, I have always wondered how this river got such an ungainly name. Horwitz reveals the answer.
Part Three contains four chapters, each of which provides insight into the settlements in St. Augustine (and other Florida places), Roanoke (and other Virginia places), Jamestown, and Plymouth, respectively. The chapter on Plymouth rips apart several myths, including the many that surround the Thanksgiving holiday.
The source notes and bibliography are extensive, which would be expected of a book that is this well-researched. What those reference don't reflect is the sheer footwork Hortwitz did. And I don't mean figuratively. He actually walked where these explorers, conquerors, and settlers walked. He visited sites, spoke with other researchers, and interviewed people who had starkly different views of what occurred.
All of this research contributed to a credible work that is also quite funny in places.