By his own admission, Tony Horwitz is not very bright. He’s written numerous best-selling books, has won a Pulitzer and works for the Wall Street Journal. But he’s still struggling with the whole American History thing.
Expensively educated at a private school and university – a history major, no less! – I’d matriculated to middle age with a third grader’s grasp of early America . . . (it isn’t) a gap in my education; it is a chasm.
He came to this conclusion when he found himself at Plymouth Rock and discovered how small it really is.
. . . a lump of granite, the wet sand around it strewn with cigarette butts and ticket stubs . . . about five feet square, it looked like a fossilized potato.
The result? A wonderful book titled A Voyage Long and Strange: Rediscovering the New World.
Part US history, part travelogue, A Voyage Long and Strange takes you along as Horwitz makes his way around North America as he tracks Coronado and searchs for Cabeza de Vaca. He encounters colorful characters while debunking much of what passes for “traditional” history instruction.
Horwitz spends several days in Kansas while chasing Coronado’s gold and at least one night at “a dingy tavern called Bill’s” in Lyons. (I mention this only because I have also spent some time in Bill’s and, no, it is not dingy. Hmm . . . maybe just a little.) But it is his habit of meeting people and making them feel comfortable enough to share their stories that makes the book so readable.
If you haven’t read any of Horwitz’s earlier work, you’ve got a whole summer ahead to catch up. Start with this one and you’ll be a better history teacher for it.