Mike's Reviews > Roanoke: Solving the Mystery of the Lost Colony

Roanoke by Lee Miller
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Mar 19, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: american-history, world-history
Read in January, 2005

Roanoke is book of history which is built on a single main thesis, but what is interesting about it is that instead of stating the thesis and then hammering home the items of support for that thesis, Miller lays out the supporting information piece by piece, building a case for her thesis and only revealing it towards the end of the book. She attempts to answer two questions: what happened to the Roanoke colony, why were they screwed over, and who screwed them over? (OK, that's three questions. No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!)

The first part of the book is the hardest to get through, but Miller paints a bleak and at times frightening picture of what it was to be in a remote part of the world, hiding desperately from enemies from other European countries on a hurricane-pounded shore, surrounded by natives of unknown hostility and "protected" by soldiers with definite hostility. The colonists, months (and in the end, years) away from any help from home, have been set up to fail.

The story then skips back to Britain and the court of Elizabeth I, where we learn more about the origins of the colony and the political forces behind (and opposing) it. The destruction of the colony becomes about the destruction of one particular courtier, and Miller then establishes the motives, means, and opportunities of her case. The logistics of the colony's ruination are laid out, their destruction is secured along with the political downfall of the courtier, and the traces of the colony are then tracked through local folktales, stories told after the event to later investigators, and even physical/genetic markers.

I enjoyed it very much, and recommend it for anyone who is interested in court intrigue or understanding the tenuousness of early New World colonization. I think Miller makes her case.
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