I'm in week eight of my maternity leave and have discovered that the advertisers of daytime television really want me to eat at Golden Corral, buy many items from Billy Mays, and help me get the life insurance I need for my peace of mind. And while our dinners have been improved immensely by my new friends Giada and Ina, there's only so many times I can watch prosciutto being wrapped around figs. Between nursing, changing diapers, and making funny faces at the baby, I've tried to get in a little reading, and was able to finish Tony Horwitz's A Voyage Long and Strange: Rediscovering the New World just a few hours before it was due. I was even able to snap the blurry photo above. But one thing I wasn't able to do was spend any quality time going back over the book to find the really great quotes and highlights, so bear with me on the details.
I remember 4th grade history being the year of explorers, name after name of men I imagined yielding swords in puffy pantaloons. History not being my strong point (it is unlikely I'll remember any fact for longer than oh, say, 20 minutes), I was unaware of how many Europeans had landed on our shores prior to both Columbus and the Pilgrims. I doubt that I'm alone. Horwitz explores these men and the many misconceptions that surrounds them and their legacies, with the modern cities/peoples who are constantly in a tug-of-war to be the deemed the first of the firsts.
Horwitz has this great reporting/writing style that weaves the modern into the historical, which I had enjoyed in his Blue Latitudes, his book about Captain Cook. Because A Voyage Long and Strange covers so many explorers, there's a lot more historical background for each one, especially at the beginning of the book. But today's people enter in quickly, and in interesting ways. Compared to Europe, it seems that America is lacking in a rich sense of history or tradition, but Horwitz meets people who trace themselves back to remarkably different first settlers, and hold onto these identities strongly. As always, his interactions with these people are interesting, and often hilarious (such as his participation in an all-era reinactment camp: think pirates interacting with knights).
If you want to love history but most presentations of history don't love you back, try reading some of Horwitz's writing. It's totally approachable and fun, and I've already requested another of his books from the library.