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Brutal Journey: The Epic Story of the First Crossing of North America

3.91  ·  Rating Details ·  315 Ratings  ·  58 Reviews
A gripping account of four explorers adrift in an unknown land and the harrowing journey that took them across North America 270 years before Lewis and Clark

One part Heart of Darkness, one part Lewis and Clark, Brutal Journey tells the story of a group of explorers who came to the new world on the heels of Cortés; bound for glory, only four of four hundred would survive. E
Hardcover, 366 pages
Published May 2nd 2006 by Henry Holt and Co. (first published September 5th 2000)
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Blood and Thunder by Hampton SidesBrutal Journey by Paul SchneiderKearny's March by Winston GroomThe Maverick Cookbook by Lynn ClineDispatches from the Fort Apache Scout by Lori Davisson
History of the American Southwest
2nd out of 13 books — 13 voters
Into Thin Air by Jon KrakauerIsaac's Storm by Erik LarsonA Night to Remember by Walter LordIn the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel PhilbrickThe Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan
Non-fiction Disaster Books
115th out of 117 books — 168 voters

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Community Reviews

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Dec 01, 2012 Gemma rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. I loved it so much that I Google-stalked the author, Paul Schneider, only to find that that is also the name of the actor that played Mark Brandanowicz on Parks and Recreation. For a minute I thought they might be the same person, but alas, they were not.

The point here is that this Paul Schneider is an extremely gifted writer who can make history leap off the page. He is enthralled by Cabeza de Vaca and his enthusiasm is catching. I'd read novels by this guy. The lengthy bibli
Jun 16, 2008 Granny rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: history lovers, those who like a good tale
Brutal Journey is an outstanding narrative. Perhaps I was spellbound because I grew up just a few miles from where the Narvaez expedition landed in the Tampa Bay area. It's a darned good tale, told well. More than 400 expedition members began the quest for wealth in the New World. Four survived, after seven years of wandering. This is the story of those four, gleaned from records and diaries they wrote. It is a saga of greed, bravery and extreme stupidity on the part of their leader. "C'mon, ...more
Apr 21, 2011 Nathan rated it did not like it
I couldn't, as hard as I tried, engage with this story. The focal point is the conquistadores, which is not a bad subject, if only the author had been more authoritative. There is more detail here than is usually given in the textbooks, but to practically no avail; the story is so uncompelling that the details drift by without effect. Tedium is such an intangible failing that it sounds like a copout to slap it on a book without critiquing the rest of it, but here I must. The information was ...more
Jun 22, 2007 Grumpus rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
Back when men were, these guys endured more than could be possibly imagined. In addition to starvation, captured Europeans might find themselves the victims of having their beards pulled out hair by hair by some of the indian tribes as they had never seen bearded men before. Truely an apropos title.
Rich Hasler
An amazing and fascinating story but rather disturbing and painful to read. Still, recommend to any who find this sort of history interesting.
Apr 30, 2015 Ben rated it it was amazing
Well written historical narrative. By the end it was getting a little surreal and I liked it.
Dec 29, 2015 Glenn rated it it was amazing
Fascinating and incredible.
Oct 07, 2016 Sue added it
A great book, fascinating story of early explorers 1509 and their many adventures along the years
Mar 27, 2016 Caroline rated it really liked it
In 1527 the Narváez expedition, a group of Spanish conquistadors, five ships and some 600 men (and a few women), set off on a voyage to the New World, with the intention of replicating Hernán Cortés' success in conquering the Aztec Empire, and gaining territory and riches for the Spanish king and Christian souls for their God. After losing some 150 men to desertion on the island of Hispaniola and losing several ships and their passengers to a hurricane, the remaining ships and men landed on the ...more
Last Ranger
Sep 01, 2016 Last Ranger rated it it was amazing

Strangers in a Strange Land:

With swords, grit and determination, the Conquistadors sought fame and fortune in the "New World". Their primary goals were land, to expand Spain's holdings, and gold, for themselves and their King. Any native people they encountered were to be conquered, enslaved and converted to a proper religion--often all three at once. In the early 16th Century one of these Spanish "explorers", Panfilo de Narvaez, was in search of an opportunity, instead what he got was a one way
Theo Logos
Jan 18, 2016 Theo Logos rated it really liked it
Brutal Journey' retells one of the most incredible (and least know) chapters of the early European exploration of the Americas - the spectacular failure of Panfilo de Narvaez in his attempt to conquer the Gulf Coast of North America, and the ordeal of the four men (out of an original four hundred) who survived. Though the story had already been told in a first hand account by survivor Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca in his `Adventures in the Unknown Interior of America', there was amble reason for ...more
May 04, 2009 Travis rated it it was amazing
"Brutal Journey" is an adventure narrative that reads like magic realism. As written on the dustjacket, it is "one part 'Heart of Darkness,' one part Lewis and Clark"--a tale colored by mens' darkest ambitions and actions, but also lightened with frequent paradoxical moments of hopefulness and rare beauty.

Drawn primarily from two sources, the personal memoirs of Cabeza de Vaca published in 1542, and a copy of the expedition report written by the expedition survivors, "Brutal Journey" relates in
Dec 14, 2014 Randal rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: Serious history buffs only
Shelves: nonfiction
Meh. Two reasons:
The problem with nonfiction is that there are so few great story arcs. This is billed (see the subtitle) as an epic. Here's the gist: Bunch of Spanish conquistadors in a really, really badly planned & executed expedition wander into the swamp in Tampa Bay, Florida. Screw up hugely, at which point they stop functioning as protagonists and become flotsam. Spasmodically flail their way down the Gulf Coast to Galveston, Texas, where things mire down. The handful of survivors the
Jeffrey May
Jul 29, 2012 Jeffrey May rated it really liked it
Aside from the first few chapters, Brutal Journey by Paul Schneider was a compelling narrative that occasionally reminded me of reading science fiction, made fantastically remarkable because it is an actual account of the Spanish “conquistadors” adventure exploring from present day Florida to the Pacific coast between 1528 and 1536. Encounters with long lost tribe after tribe of “Indians” with wildly different and bizarre social customs affecting the survival of those few who did survive were ...more
Edmund Pickett
Jun 23, 2008 Edmund Pickett rated it liked it
Recommends it for: anyone
Shelves: history
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mike Nyerges
Jun 05, 2013 Mike Nyerges rated it liked it
Shelves: recently-read
Brutal Journey recounts and examines the failed expedition of the American lands along the north shore of the Gulf of Mexico by Pánfilo de Narváez, which began with four hundred ill-fated Conquistadors landing in Tampa Bay in 1528, eleven years before the better known landing in Florida by Hernando De Soto. It is a remarkable account that begins, in part, by examining the legal underpinnings of Spanish conquest in the Americas, which rested on 700 years of confiscatory war with the Moors, and th ...more
Aug 14, 2011 Kathleen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
I read this a few years ago for a university course in Colonial American history. It was my professor's latest find; he was highly wary of popular history books, but he was impressed enough by this one to add it to the required reading list. If the opinion of a bunch of undergrad history majors means anything (and I accept that to some people it might not), the entire class--with no exceptions--loved it.

The book really is fantastic. In a nutshell, and without wanting to give much away: Four hun
May 27, 2012 Bruce rated it it was amazing
Brutal Journey is a fantastic narrative collected from several primary and secondary sources about the almost unbelievable sequence of events that befell Narvaez, his royal treasurer (and primary author of the surviving account), and 600 Spanish soldiers that journeyed to La Florida in the 1520s to claim it for gold, god, country, and perhaps most importantly, Narvaez’s personal ambition. Paul Scheider is an expert weaver of words, and has an ability to intermingle prose and historical narrative ...more
Todd Stockslager
Jun 08, 2015 Todd Stockslager rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Schneider's account of this indeed-brutal journey describes the misadventures of a group of erstwhile Spanish conquerors who were licensed by the King to explore and colonize the land North of Cortes's Mexico. The effort ended in failure when the four survivors of the original 300-plus who landed on the west coast of Florida in 1528 staggered out of the wilderness on the Pacific coast of Northwestern Mexico nine years later!

The story is inevitably episodic, as it relies on the only two first-han
Nov 14, 2007 Erin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: History Buffs
This book is 100 times better than the last book I checked out about Cabeza de Vaca. The writing is great, and the narrative is fascinating. One of the most interesting things about this story is that even after years of living with the native peoples of what is now the U.S., the surviving conquistadors went right back to commiting genocide against the very people who had saved them. Granted, some people argue that Cabeza de Vaca stood up for indigenous rights to some degree, but it seems like a ...more
Wow, what an adventure. Despite all the death, torture, starvation, etc., of course. On the one hand it’s hard to believe that these 4 men survived their 8 year trek across the continent. But on the other hand, it’s hard to believe more of the ~400 that started out didn’t survive. I like the author’s style--kind of breezy, didn’t get bogged down in details. Very readable. Of course, it’s also an examination of the arrogance and hubris of these colonial explorers--their intention was to claim the ...more
Sep 22, 2011 Richie rated it it was amazing
Read this book over a year ago. Hard to remember specifics but the book centers around Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca and his Brutal Journey over the course of seven or eight years through early southern America. Focuses on how he was one of few survivors with what started as 500 or so explorers in the inrerior of what is today Florida. He is sold into slavery and makes his way to freedom. Reminds me of the movie Gladiator without the fighting except that this is a true account which makes it far ...more
Nov 16, 2009 Christine rated it really liked it
I am a huge history nerd, and I never even knew that this makes me wonder what else I'm missing! This was a great book, it was an exceptionally quick read for a non-fiction book, and Schneider did a good job with the little information that's around from this particular expedition. There was a little too much speculation in it for me--I'm nerdy, I like my facts solid!--but the story itself was so compelling, I can easily overlook some of the more nebulous features. I'm definitely ...more
Dec 11, 2013 waxpinkie rated it really liked it
What an amazing story from start to finish. This story could be a serious contender for the truth is stranger than fiction contest (if there is one). It stays with you long after you read it. In fact I lost my copy on a trip when about 3/4 through and had to buy another one. If you try to describe this moment of bizarre history, people think you've made the whole thing up. I kid you not. If you love history and a good adventure story filled with some "believe it or not" moments, this book is for ...more
Apr 24, 2008 Joshua rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2008
Wow. This was a good one. I'm into conquistadors and survival stories so this connected on both those levels. 1528, 400+ Spanish head off to La Florida thinking they will become rich beyond their dreams due to cities of gold. Not likely. What they do get is disease, enslavement, lost at sea, starvation, cannibalism, killed by a variety of tribes and other extremes.

8 years after they began their journey, four survivors make it out alive, naked & completely different people, to a Spanish sett
Gregory Flemming
Nov 03, 2013 Gregory Flemming rated it really liked it
An excellent piecing together of the story of the first European expedition to cross a large section of the North American continent. The story of their voyage is incredible: starting out as a mass expedition of hundreds of men, death and mishaps reduces the number to a bare handful of practically naked survivors, struggling to find food. Given the scant and at times conflicting accounts of the expedition, Schneider does a great job of reconstructing the journey’s events.
Joe Hilley
Jan 09, 2011 Joe Hilley rated it it was amazing
Brutal Journey is the story of the Narvaez expedition to Florida. They landed at Tampa in 1528 with the hope of conquering the peninsula, only they hadn't counted on meeting the Apalachee indians. Plagued by disease and the unyielding natives, Narvaez and his men abandoned their expedition and set off on a harrowing trek for survival that only 4 men survived. This is a nonfiction book but it reads like an adventure novel. I'm not a fast reader but I finished this book in about 3 days.
Nov 10, 2007 Colbito rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Yes
Very interesting historical about a Spanish expedition to conquer and settle the north coast of the Gulf of Mexico. They landed near modern day Tampa Bay to an almost immediate run of bad decision making and disaster. Giving up they decide to head for Spanish settlements on the Mexican coast.7 years later the 4 that survived the out of original 300 finally ran into more Spaniards thousands of miles away in modern Sinaloa, western Mexico.
Oct 01, 2008 Johan rated it liked it
Not the best read, a bit sluggish, but it has really fascinating scenes from a completely different world, the untouched paleolithic native societies in north america, for the "conquistador" it could just as well have been another planet.
It's an amazing journey, those guys lived hard and survived...I'll use it as an argument the next time "somebody" wants to stop the car to stretch their legs.

Mar 01, 2008 Ron rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: history buffs.
Shelves: history, adventure
From the few primary sources that remain, Paul Schneider weaves a compelling story about "early European colonialism gone epically wrong," in the words of the PW review. If you liked AGUIRRE, this story about a Spanish expedition that started in Florida with 400 men and ended in Mexico with four is going to be irresistible.
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Paul is currently the editor of Martha's Vineyard Magazine, the leading general interest magazine about the storied island off the coast of Massachusetts.

He is also the author of five books of non-fiction, most recently Old Man River: The Mississippi in North American History. (Henry Holt, 2013). The book was well reviewed in the New Yorker, the Wall Street Journal, and elsewhere.

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