A Voyage Long and Strange: On the Trail of Vikings, Conquistadors, Lost Colonists, and Other Adventurers in Early America

by Tony Horwitz

Paperback, 2009



Call number



Picador (2009), Edition: Reprint, 464 pages


An irresistible blend of history, myth, and misadventure, A Voyage Long and Strange captures the wonder and drama of first contact. Vikings, conquistadors, French voyageurs--these and many others roamed an unknown continent in quest of grapes, gold, converts, even a cure for syphilis. Though most failed, their remarkable exploits left an enduring mark on the land and people encountered by late-arriving English settlers.--From publisher description.

Media reviews

Never mind his Pulitzer, the best-selling books, the writing jobs at The Wall Street Journal and The New Yorker: Tony Horwitz is a dope. Really, he’ll tell you so himself, and often does, though not in so many words, in his funny and lively new travelogue, “A Voyage Long and Strange.”

User reviews

LibraryThing member cbl_tn
I paid attention in history class. Either I missed the significance of most of the content Tony Horwitz covers in this book, or it simply wasn't included in my textbooks. Horwitz looks at European contact with the New World of North America preceding the Mayflower's arrival at Plymouth. From this
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perspective, the settlement at Plymouth marked the end of an era rather than a beginning.

The biggest surprises for me involved Spanish expeditions in what is now the United States. I had no idea that Spanish conquistadors traveled outside of the southwestern states, Florida, and the Gulf Coast. It was a revelation to learn that Coronado's route took him into the heart of Kansas. It was an even bigger revelation to learn that De Soto's route went right through my home territory of East Tennessee. Yes, I knew he had discovered the Mississippi River, but I had formed an erroneous impression that he discovered it by navigating up from the Gulf, not that he came across it during an overland journey that began in Florida.

One of my favorite sections of the book is the note on sources and the 12-page bibliography. Chapter by chapter, Horwitz points the reader to primary sources available for that chapter's topic (often a translated and published diary, journal, or log) and to the best of the secondary sources on that topic. I added at least a dozen items to my TBR list -- some to buy and some to borrow from the library. At the top of the list are books about De Soto's journey that took him through East Tennessee.

Recommended to readers looking for an overview of European exploration and discovery of North America. Readers of travel literature will enjoy reading about Horwitz's experiences as he followed the routes of these early explorers.
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LibraryThing member craso
Tony Horwitz, while visiting the Plymouth Rock, wondered why so many people were interested in looking at an old cracked rock. Why was the story of the Pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving so important to Americans when other people visited and colonized America before them? Another question, why is
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Columbus considered to be the one who discovered America when he actually landed in what is now the Dominican Republic thinking he was in the India? Horwitz travels from an archeological investigation of a Norse colony in New Foundland, down to the Caribbean, through the American Southwest, across to Florida, up to Virginia and then back to Plymouth looking for the truth behind the discovery and colonizing of America.

This book mixes in depth historical research with investigative journalism. Horwitz provides the reader with historical background and then relates his travels. He observes his surroundings and interviews people living there. His interviews are usually with park rangers, local historians, tourists, reinactors, or members of historical organizations.

Horwitz writing style is both thoughtful and humorous. Racism crops up in some of the places he visits. In the Dominican Republic it's better to be of Spanish descent than Indian or black. In Virginia, many people claiming to be a descendant of Pocahontas are actually a mix of white, indian, and black. He talks with a member of an organization of whites who have been asked by Native Americans not to dress in Native American garb in public. He also relates his exasperating adventures traveling around the DR where mentioning Columbus is considered a jinx. At a ceremony he is pulled away from seeing the possible remains of Columbus by a group of bureaucrats.

When sorting through all the myths and facts what is more important to people, historical truths or what they preserve to be the truth? In the end, people believe in what they are comfortable with and that is that the nation was founded by pious, hardworking Puritans.
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LibraryThing member nbmars
When the Pilgrims arrived in Massachusetts in 1620, they were greeted in English by the Indian Samoset, who asked them for a beer. Thus begins Tony Horwitz’s debunking of America’s foundational myths, along with the account of his own attempt to retrace the footsteps of the earliest explorers
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in the New World.

Like his book “Confederates in the Attic,” Horwitz blends historical revelations of the past with impressions from the present, the latter gained through a great deal of courage, audacity, and humor. And like the former book, Horwitz doesn’t make a complete survey of the period under study, but gives us a soupcon; just enough of a taste to interest us in finding out more on our own.

He starts at Plymouth Rock, and then takes a step backwards in time, to Norse explorers and then to Columbus, who upon arriving at San Salvador, knelt and thanked God “who had requited them after a voyage so long and strange.” Columbus left with some souvenirs (i.e., natives) and began going back and forth between Spain and the Caribbean, always looking for riches. He never found them in the New World, but did manage to decimate the native population.

Other Spanish would-be conquerors in search of gold followed, and moved up into the American South and Southwest. Horowitz takes a car trip that follows the paths of Coronado and De Soto, and learns about the surprising areas explored by them as well as the cruelties they committed en route. He stops at Jamestown and Roanoke, and tells us what he learns about Sir Walter Raleigh, John Smith, and Pocahontas (not much of it resembling the stories currently promulgated). (Pocahontas, for example, was only ten years old when John Smith arrived; it was John Rolfe she married, and not necessarily on a voluntary basis.)

Horwitz isn’t given to deep analysis; he devotes a sentence or two to the racism behind behaviors towards the Indians, and a few paragraphs to the importance of myths that retain their hold on people in spite of facts indicating otherwise. Americans don’t so much *study* history, he claims, as *shop* for it. “The past (is) a consumable, subject to the national preference for familiar products.”

But Horwitz still has fun, as do his readers, even while uncovering some bitter truths. If this results in more people becoming aware of more history, who can complain?
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LibraryThing member Othemts
Tony Horwitz is one of my favorite writers. His books are the place where two of my favorite subjects - history & travel - meet. This book is no exception as it is prompted by his curiosity of what happened between Columbus' first voyage in 1492 and the settlement of Plymouth in 1620. This period
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of nearly a century & a half is often neglected in popular history and sometimes even in classroom history. To answer this question, Hortwitz travels across North America in the footsteps of explorers, traders, conquistadors and colonists from the Norse to the Spanish, French, and English.

I tend to know a bit more than average American about this period in American history, but there were a few surprises for me in this book. For example, I never knew that French Huguenots settled at Fort Caroline in present-day Jacksonville, Florida only to be massacred by the Spanish. I know of Columbus' bad treatment of the "Indians" but didn't know that his first voyage was relatively peaceful and it was only in his later travels when he was mistakenly made a colonial administrator that he oversaw genocidal madness. The extent of De Soto and Coronado's journeys within the current United States boundaries was eye-opening as well.

Horwitz's travels take him to:

  • Newfoundland for the remnants of Norse settlements from 1000 years ago.

  • The Dominican Republic to explore the land that Columbus so poorly administered.

  • De Vaca's route along the Gulf Coast.

  • Coronado's journeys through the Southwest and Plains.

  • Through the Southeast and across the Mississippi with De Soto.

  • French & Spanish settlements in Florida.

  • The "Lost Colony" of Roanoke on North Carolina's Outer Banks

  • The English Settlements of Jamestown and Plymouth.

Horwitz balances appreciation for the hardships and hardiness of these explorers with an honest appraisal of their greed and cruelty. He's also amazing in his ability to find people who are connected with these stories whether they be descendants or merely fascinated with the period of history. One Pamunkey Indian even teases Horwitz for his tenacity in trying to get the story. "You are hard to get rid of, just like those damned English."

This is a great book for anyone wanting to catch up on the history they may have slept through in high school written in a lively and humorous style. Another great volume for Hortwitz's oeuvre.

Favorite Passages:
"People thing the conquistadors were mad and greedy, always searching for pay dirt," Walter said, over the clank and crush of machinery. "Well, here we are, still digging." He took a long drag on his cigarette. "Those evil Spaniards weren't aliens, they were us. Get rich quick -- that's the American dream, isn't it?" - p. 149

Seven Cities of Gold, the Isle of the Amazons, El Dorado - these weren't wild fantasies to the Spanish, they were vivid realities, just waiting to be found. Europeans often wrote disdainfully of Indian "superstition" - while marching through jungles and mountains in pursuit of their own potent myths. - p. 193

[Reverend Gomes] smiled benignly, as I imagined he might at a bewildered parishioner. "Myth is more important than history. History is arbitrary, a collection of facts. Myth we choose, we create we perpetuate.

He spooned up the last of his succotash. "The story here may not be correct, but it transcends truth. It's like religion -- beyond facts. Myth trumps fact, always does, always has, always will." - p. 387.
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LibraryThing member nmele
Maybe because I remember a lot of what I learned in school about early European exploration of the Americas, this book just was not as interesting to me as the other Tony Horwitz books I have read. As always, he contrasts history with contemporary attitudes toward the past and that exploration,
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too, was not as interesting as in "Confederates in the Attic" or "Blue Latitudes". If you feel you need a quick course on Viking settlements in North America and on the Spanish explorations and conquests, this is probably the book for you. It just wasn't for me.
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LibraryThing member arouse77
My first impression of this book was exceedingly favorable. The opening chapters commence with a self-depricating stroll past Plymouth Rock and down Amnesia Alley. The author has an engaging and witty style i found immediately enjoyable to read. If the remainder of the book had maintained this
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initial promise, i would be rating as one of the better peices of non-fiction i've ever encountered.

perhaps not surprisingly though, the bantering tone of the early chapters did not last. once we left newfoundland (a HOTBED of hilarity, as is well known) and travelled further south, the timbre of the strory become singularly depressing, and virtually unleavened with the asides and insights that made the first portion so enjoyable.

i suppose this might be partially because of the darker cast of the events post-wiking (i mean, spaniards vs. norsemen in a contest of levity? foregone conclusion!) but the feeling i got from the remainder of the book was of a singularly uninspired travelouge of places people would rarely care to visit even if one COULD be sure any of the purported historical events actually occurred there, which no one actually can.

suddenly "Plymouth Pebble" doesn't seem worthy of the mockery it receives in the opening chapter!

On the whole, i found this book a worthwhile read, though was disappointed with its unevenness. i felt like the momentum of the early chapters had totally dissipated by about 2/3rd though. And even though the final portions seemed long and drawn out, the end also felt rather abrupt back on the Massachusetts shore.

I suppose if he hadn't raised my hopes for hilarious historical hyjinx, the overall impression would have been better. ah well.
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LibraryThing member themythicalcodfish
It's rare that you see an historical travel narrative that takes into account the importance of historical myth as a parallel to historical fact. Horwitz, however, manages to do so in this volume. His analysis runs from the Vikings who still felt hafvalla, lost at sea, even when they landed in
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Newfoundland, to the Spanish, who crossed vast tracts of the Americas before the English even settled, and changed the landscape in ways that we now cannot even begin to imagine. Alongside all this, however, he manages to present the myths of America's discovery and founding, both for U.S. and Canadian audiences, in a way that does not invalidate them against the historic narrative, but instead incorporates them and explains their import in a way that is respectful of both fact and legend.
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LibraryThing member herbcat
Sometimes plodding, Horwitz always has enough sideline material to keep things interesting. Careful historian.
LibraryThing member bookwoman247
Did Columbus redally discover the New world? Did the pilgrims really step ashore at Plymouth Rock to found the first permanent colony in what would become the United States? Was Ponce de Leon really searching for the fountain of youth? These are lessons that are learned by every American
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schoolchild, and are an integral part of the fabric of the American national identity and culture - but, are they true?

Horwitz set out to discover, as much as possible, the truth about the discovery and colonization of the New
World, with almost all of the emphasis on North America, and in particular, the United States.

I found this book interesting and engaging. To use a cliché that's been beaten to death, Horwitz makes history come alive. He interviewed many interesting people, and explored many landmarks and relics.

This book brought home to me how many versions there are of the same historic event, and that many times, it's the small, uncelebrated events that have the greatest impact on the developement of history.
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LibraryThing member jrtanworth
Another excellent book by Tony Horwitz, with a mixture of little known history, a personal search for existing evidence and landmarks related to early exploration of America, and subtle humor as he engages other Americans and their views of the early explorers.
LibraryThing member anitag99
Best book I read in the last year! Great book to read if you're interested in American history. Hilarious and sad incidents on little known American history. Who would have thought that our forefathers were sometime cannibals in desperate times?
LibraryThing member jennyo
I loved Blue Latitudes and Confederates in the Attic. So much so that I made two different book clubs read them. I was a little disappointed in this book though. Not sure why. It has many of the same elements as the other two books...humor, history, travelogue...but it just didn't feel as cohesive
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as the others. Like maybe there was too much story for a single book. I'm not exactly sure. It's been a while since I read it, so I'm going on my memory, which hasn't been too reliable of late.

Ah, found my old review, so here it is too, just to compare with my current recollection:

Just finished this newest Tony Horwitz book last night. Horwitz is one of my favorite non-fiction writers, especially when he's writing about history. In this book, he visited Plymouth Rock and then got to thinking about all those Europeans who got to America before the Pilgrims did. And then he researched 10 of them and presented their stories in this book. Like all of Horwitz's work, it's fascinating and witty. But this one felt dense too. It may just be that I've been distracted a lot by life lately, but it took me a long time to get through this one. I always wanted to get back to it, just couldn't seem to find the time or energy. I'd still recommend it though. And I really liked what Horwitz had to say about myth vs. fact at the end of the book. Those few pages were worth the whole read.
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LibraryThing member lmcalister
Everything I have read by Tony Horwitz so far has been extremely enjoyable. This is the book that turned me on to his storytelling abilities
LibraryThing member mcfitz
Horwitz journeys through America to the places where the earliest European adventurers appeared. Sometimes condescending, the author succeeds in his plot to learn more about the time between Columbus and Jamestown, and passes his thoughts on to readers who he hopes are interested enough in history
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to care. Well-developed and written with plenty of sarcastic humor, be prepared for his sometimes smart-aleck attitudes about life then and now.
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LibraryThing member mojomomma
Horwitz tracks down and follows the actual steps of the many early explorer's who came to the U.S. before the Pilgrims, the Vikings, the Spaniards, and the Jamestown settlements.
LibraryThing member bertonek
A fun history lesson. Horwitz combines research on 16th century explorers in the Americas with his own retracing of their routes. He is a colorful, engagin writer.
LibraryThing member cdogzilla
Engaging overview of the history of European journeys to the New World from the Norse in Vinland ca. 1000 AD up to the arrival of the Mayflower. Fun, if slight, but pointing to intriguing depths.
LibraryThing member omphalos02
Horwitz takes on American history from the "discovery" of America to the Plymouth landing. What could easily be tedious is amusing and fascinating in Horwitz's capable hands.
LibraryThing member debnance
I bought this on pure impulse after hearing Cokie Roberts speak and visiting the bookstore that sponsored her talk. It was the best impulse buy I’ve made. Why, oh why, can’t textbooks read like Tony Horwitz? Lots of information, yes, but info interspersed with cool stories. Everything you
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always wanted to know about American explorers. Some I wish I hadn’t learned (DeSoto wasn’t a nice guy, for example.)
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LibraryThing member MiaCulpa
While American history doesn't interest me as much as other areas, I found much to interest me in this engagingly written book. If nothing else, I found out that a tool to dig out solid stools in the heavily constipated has a name.

I will be including other titles by Mr Horwitz on my to-read list
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and for me that is the highest accolade I can give to a writer.
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LibraryThing member puttocklibrary
I really enjoyed this travelogue through the pre-history of the Americas. I don't have any kind of connection to American identity, being Canadian, but I really enjoyed learning more about the explorers and people who were on this continent before the stories we all know.
This book was very
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readable, and very interesting. Definitely recommended reading.
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LibraryThing member kslade
Excellent details on the early explorers and settlers in America. Very interesting and I recommend this.
LibraryThing member AKBouterse
I found this book to be very enjoyable. I read this book as extra credit for one of my classes but liked it nonetheless. I really love learning about history but some academic history books can be very dry and boring to read so I like history books like this where it was written for a broad
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audience. There was a lot of stuff in this book I didn't know but also lots and lots of facts that I did know. This is probably partially because I'm in an American history class right now but some things that the author discovered where he was like "this is so cool I had no idea this happened!" I already knew about it and it was less exciting. I would say definitely pick up this book if you are interested in learning more about who the earliest settlers of America were, where the went, what they did, and how they affected the native peoples. Very informative and I pretty interesting read.
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LibraryThing member japaul22
This is a really fun and informative book. Horwitz realizes on a chance trip to Plymouth rock that he knows next to nothing about the many people who visited and settled in America before the Pilgrims. To remedy this, he goes on a journey around the Americas, retracing the steps of the first
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European explorers to the Americas. The reader hears about the Vikings, Columbus, conquistadors like Coronado and De Soto, the Roanoke settlers, and information on the Native Americans they displaced. Horwitz includes lots of interviews with current historians and avid amateur "historians", many of whom are just plain crazy. This is a fun mix of history, travel memoir, and people who are way too into their ancestry. Fun read and you'll probably learn something new too.
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LibraryThing member Library_Lin
Since I am a fan of Horwitz's wife, Geraldine Brooks, I thought I'd pick up this work of historical investigative journalism from her husband. Traveling with him to discover the history of North America before and until the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth, was a treat.

This is not a romanticized
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version of what happened. He takes pains to interview not only historians but ancestors of the Native Americans whose heritage was completely upended as well. At times it was funny, his description of his experiences in a Micmac sweatlodge had me laughing. Things he found out about Hernando de Soto made me furious. But no matter where he was in the Carribean or the United States, and no matter whose historical record he was examining, I was fascinated. The pages turned themselves.

This is not really a feel-good story for any of us. But Horwitz did his best to find the truth of what happened. The result is a satisfying read.
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Indies Choice Book Award (Honor Book — 2009)
Massachusetts Book Award (Must-Read (Longlist) — Nonfiction — 2009)
Notable Books List (Nonfiction — 2009)


Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

8.29 inches


0312428324 / 9780312428327


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