A Voyage Long and Strange, by Tony Horwitz (Read by the author)
In fourteen hundred & ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. So goes the children's ditty, but what happened then, and more importantly, what happened before then? That's what Tony Horwitz, Pulitzer-prize winning author and history major, decided to find out. While playing tourist at Plymouth Rock, he realizes that he knows nothing about the period of time between Columbus' voyage to America and the Pilgrims' settlement in Massachusetts. He embarks a long and strange journey to the sites of America's earliest European contact with the "naturals," the people indigenous to America. Realizing that the Vikings and others preceded Columbus, his quest takes him to first to Newfoundland where he interviews locals and learns Viking lore. From there, he tracks Columbus, Ponce de Leon, Coronado, Desoto, James Smith, Sir Walter Raleigh and other famous and infamous early discovers. His journey is a fascinating and entertaining adventure for the armchair traveler and/or history buff.
Perhaps the reason that Horowitz and the rest of us have been ignorant of much of the material he discovered and presents in this book, is that history books are often dull and uninviting, so we don't read, discuss and learn from them. This book is anything but boring! The author cleverly alternates chapters -- describing his personal 21st Century exploration of the areas and their inhabitants in one, with the original discoverers' exploits in the area in the next. The balance of history and modern commentary works to keep the listener eagerly wanting to hear more, as opposed to, "Are we there yet?" His delivery is down-to-earth, humorous and friendly. He seems like the kind of guy you'd like to sit and have a beer with. In fact, one of the amusing facts he discloses is that when Samoset greeted the Pilgrims, he not only spoke English, but he asked for a beer. (You'll have to listen to the book to get the rest of the story.)
This is a perfect road trip book for a family vacation, with the disclaimer that there were some violent encounters between early discoverers and naturals. It would provide excellent fodder for the dreaded "How I Spent My Summer Vacation" essay, and boys, especially, would appreciate the mild bathroom humor. Horwitz describes Desoto "farting and frolicking with the natives" after sharing a nut oil drink with them. Horwitz has made an important contribution to the study of American history with this book. He's given us the ammunition to amend our traditional views without shattering our sacrosanct images. He very gently reeducates while acknowledging that misinformation occurred and persisted through the centuries. Horowitz gets an A++ for this audio book.