Pulitzer-Prize winner Tony Horwitz hit the best-seller lists a while back with the critically praisedConfederates in the Attic
, but since I’m not much of a Civil War buff I took a pass on it.
Now that I’ve read his new book, A Voyage Long and Strange, I definitely understand the charm.
The subject of this book may turn off some people, too – the history of the pre-Mayflower exploration of the North American continent.
Tedious descriptions of starving conquistadors and vain searches for golden cities, right? Not in Horwitz’ hands.
He deftly combines a readable summary of the available scholarship on relevant matters with a road trip through the present-day routes the explorers took. Along the way he meets up with historical re-enactors, some of them bored, some extremely perceptive; with religious kooks; with obsessed historians who can’t understand why everyone isn’t fascinated with Cabeza de Vaca.
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It’s history much in the eminent style of Bill Bryson, a master of light-hearted strolls through the obscure facts surrounding whatever he’s decided to write about this time.
Horwitz initially sets out on his trip determined to expose the Mayflower myth – after all, America had been thoroughly explored and populated by Europeans for centuries before the pilgrims came to Plymouth Rock.
By the time he revisits Plymouth, though, he finds that myths can be more important than facts. Facts are facts; myths are what a nation chooses to believe about itself. And that can tell a lot about a nation.
It’s a fascinating book; you’ll learn a lot about explorers, and it won’t hurt a bit. – Richard Connelly