Brendan's Reviews > A Voyage Long and Strange

A Voyage Long and Strange by Tony Horwitz
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's review
Jan 11, 2010

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bookshelves: 2010, audio, non-fiction, history-journalism
Read in January, 2010

What happened in that dark and lonely stretch of years between when Columbus arrived in the "new world" and when the pilgrims "landed" at Plymouth Rock? Tony Horwitz takes us on a travelogue journey of these locations, scouting them and researching them, telling us about their history with a balanced perspective and a hard eye on the truth. Some details:

* The mix of modern day locations with historical research works very well. I particularly enjoyed the chapter on the Dominican Republic in which Horwitz tastes a local meat from a street vendor that his local guide later warns him will kill tourists. His conversations with various representatives of long-dead Indian tribes are equally compelling.
* Horwitz tries to keep balance in the sections about the conquistadors, but the long tally of murder, rape, abuse, murder, rape, slavery, rape, murder, and on and on and on makes it hard to admire the men for their bravery in the face of adversity. But the section where he visits an history fair and wears conquistador armor for a day is pretty funny.
* He also underlines the vast importance disease had in helping Europeans gain a foothold in North America. When the English arrived to settle New England, whole villages were deserted because of the plagues sweeping through the populations.
* This isn't a book to read if you value your old timey tourist treasures -- none of them come off very strongly. My favorite old man he revealed behind the curtain was St. Augustine, which claims to be the longest settled town in the modern U.S. Horwitze reminds us that St. Augustine was founded as a temporary base from which the Spanish could root out the French Huguenots living up stream. So to give credit to the Spanish is kinda funny.
* Best line in the book (as best I can recall it), a man discussing why Plymouth (rather than Jamestown) is remembered as the first U.S. settlement to succeed: "Jamestown had too many layabouts too lazy to raise their own food. And nobody wants to remember a city where a man killed his wife and unborn child to eat them."

Horwitz does a fine job with the narration and fills in a sorrowful gap in my early American history knowledge. A decent read.

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