I recently finished the newest book by Tony Horwitz entitled A Voyage Long and Strange: Rediscovering the New World. Horwitz has unexpectedly become one of my favorite authors having developed a style of writing that is part history, part travelogue. Typically, he’ll explore a historical topic by going to the place where some historical event happened, telling you about his encounters with some of the locals and telling you about the historical event. He’s done that to one extent or another with Captain Cook, the Australian outback, and the Confederates.
In this book, he takes a closer look at the events in North America before the Pilgrims set up shop. He describes his inspiration for the book as being at Plymouth Rock when he overheard that tourists would ask questions like, “Did Columbus drop off the Pilgrims in the Mayflower?” he laughed, but then realized that his own knowledge of pre-Pilgrim America wasn’t all that extensive. Columbus – Pilgrims – Squanto – Thanksgiving – something was going on in Jamestown. The book takes a look at Leif Erickson and the Vikings, Columbus, Coronado, DeSoto, some French colonists, Jamestown, and wraps up with the Pilgrims, including some lesser known facts — such as that Squanto was originally captured as a slave and dragged to England. He made his way back. Meanwhile, the area where he used to live was decimated by disease. When the Pilgrims got to Plymouth Rock, they had a settlement already cleared by natives who had died off and the assistance of a native who already knew English.
All in all, a good book. Horwitz plus early American history is a decent combination. However, the book doesn’t display as much of Horwitz’s humor and wit as many of his other books. That might have something to do with the subject matter. A lot of that early history is fairly grim — the Spaniards were particularly brutal when they hit the shores.