Rhonda's Reviews > A Voyage Long and Strange: Rediscovering the New World

A Voyage Long and Strange by Tony Horwitz
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's review
Mar 05, 12

bookshelves: history
Read in March, 2012

As others have mentioned in their reviews, Horwitz cannot decide whether he is writing a travel book or a history book. He does, however, explain exactly how he came to write the book and the real wonder is that the rest of us haven't done the same thing. While I didn't find any of the history truly eye-opening, it was sometimes more than interesting. Although, I disagreed with his absolute conclusions, one should ask oneself how, in any given history, certain things rise to the top to be remembered.

Having grown up in Virginia, and laudatory Virginia history was forced down our throats at every turn, we knew that we had beaten the Pilgrims to the new world. I recall that as a fourth grader, a few of us argued vociferously with our teacher about certain facts. What were the facts? They were the details concerning the early settlement of Jamestown which we had learned the year before. SInce our present book diverged from what we "knew" it was clearly incorrect.

The oddity of this is that it represents not only how children learn, but how adults often reason also. The point is that what you are introduced to early in life seems to stick with you as fact. I recall having undergraduates argue with me on a particular subject using a solitary book they had cursorily read during a survey course a year or so previous. Perhaps it is true of the human mind that we find it uncomfortable not to establish some definitive idea about particular concepts we learn about, no matter what the sources. Those ideas, in turn, becomes increasingly unwilling to change as time goes on. Perhaps, too, we just like generalizations about things that fit into our lives conveniently, but as usual, I am digressing.

With this said, this book is well researched. The most cogent point he makes is that it is difficult to judge people long ago by our present views, but sadly that is what we are inclined to do. I doubt that many of us would have lasted long under the command of any of these adventurers had we been questioning what we thought the right thing to do was. If nothing else, this book fills in a lot of gaps in the average person's grasp of New World history and I don't doubt many will be surprised by some of the great details. Moreover, many will be enamored of Howitz' style. I am not one of them, alas.

Still the title says it all: Horwitz has written an often amusing tale about what we might not know....and how very strange much of it seems to us today. It's worth reading just to get you to wrestle with your own mind a bit and, as long as you don't simply assume that you know better than the author, I predict, with almost absolute certainty, you will.
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