Saturday, May 10, 2008

A Voyage Long and Strange: Rediscovering the New World

I received a review copy of the book A Voyage Long and Strange: Rediscovering the New World last month. It is by Tony Horwitz. I enjoyed the book very much and I am happy to give it a good review here.

A description of the book reads:
"On a chance visit to Plymouth Rock, Tony Horwitz realizes he's mislaid more than a century of American history, from Columbus's sail in 1492 to Jamestown's founding in 16-oh-something. Did nothing happen in between? Determined to find out, he embarks on a journey of rediscovery, following in the footsteps of the many Europeans who preceded the Pilgrims to America. 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. Tracing this legacy with his own epic trek—from Florida's Fountain of Youth to Plymouth's sacred Rock, from desert pueblos to subarctic sweat lodges—Tony Horwitz explores the revealing gap between what we enshrine and what we forget. Displaying his trademark talent for humor, narrative, and historical insight, A Voyage Long and Strange allows us to rediscover the New World for ourselves."

The review copy of the book I received is labelled "Advanced Reader's Edition - Not for Sale." Most of the pictures and maps are missing as the book had yet to reach that stage of production when they sent it to me. The text is also noted as still be subject to proofreading. I have received copies of books like this before at academic conferences as handouts from vendors. This was the first time I got such a book for the purpose of review. I have to admit it made me feel a bit privileged.

I found this book to be a good read. In it, Horwitz visits the various places (Newfoundland, The Dominican Republic, Mexico, Florida, Virginia, Massachusetts) where European colonists explored and sometimes made attempts at colonies. He relates the history of European exploration interspersed with tales these areas in modern times. Horwitz repeatedly goes back and forth between time periods and I found it to be very effective.
Without a doubt, Horwitz presents a strong argument that many of the American origin stories are a myth and that Europeans (not to mention Native Americans) were here long before the Pilgrims made it to Plymouth Rock. I think most people realize that but Horwitz's narrative will make most readers think a bit harder and longer about this.

One complaint I do have about Horwitz's writing is his apparent dislike of the modern inhabitants of some of the areas he visited. I got a strong sense that he went home and told Newfie jokes about the citizens of Newfoundland. I have not the slightest doubt that Horwitz has no desire to ever return to the Dominican Republic. After what he recounts of the country, I would never visit there myself. He also doesn't think much of some Christian Fundamentalists in Florida. While I found his cynicism amusing, I imagine some locals in the areas he writes about will be less amused.

A good summary of what this book is about comes late in the book. Horwtiz quoted a minister in Massachusetts as saying, "Myth is more important than history. History is arbitrary, a collection of facts. Myth we choose, we create, we perpetuate. The story here may not be correct but it transcends truth. It's like religion - beyond facts. Myth trumps facts, always does, always has, always will" (p. 375, 376.)

Horwitz has done a good job of exposing the American myths which deal with the establishment of Europeans in North America. In the process, he describes in a fun style what actually happened. This book is worthwhile and I encourage those interested in American history to give it a look.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Free Historical Fiction Book Giveaway

Hachette Book Group USA has offered two books up as a giveaway at this blog. Here are the books with the publisher descriptions:

THE BLOOD OF FLOWERS by Anita Amirrezvani and The Crimson Portrait by Jody Shields are now available in paperback.

Let THE BLOOD OF FLOWERS, nominated for the 2008 Orange Prize for fiction, a San Francisco Chronicle bestseller and a #1 Book Sense historical fiction pick take you away to 17th-century Isfahan, Persia, the fabled land where Anita Amirrezvani spins this lush, mesmerizing tale about a carpet-weaving girl, her fate and her misfortunes.

While THE CRIMSON PORTRAIT, written by Jody Shields, was inspired by the little-known but extraordinary real-life collaboration between artists and surgeons in the treatment of injured men in World War I. THE CRIMSON PORTRAIT is a suspenseful tale of desire, deceit, and the metamorphosis of identity, as spellbinding and provocative as the author’s bestselling first novel, The Fig Eaters.

The rules:

I have not had a book giveaway here before. Here is how I will do it. If you want these books, post a comment with your e-mail address. Use an "at" rather than a "@" in your e-mail address to cut down the chances a spam harvesting robot will get your address.

Pick a number from 1 to 100 and include it in your comment. The person closest to a number I have already picked will get the books. If no one hits the number dead on and two people are equally close, the first person to have commented will get the books. I will contact the winner after the contest ends asking you for your postal address so the publisher can send you the books. The name of the winner will be published here.

I will end this contest one week from today which will be May 17th, 2008 or once all 100 numbers have been selected by commenters.

All comments must be approved by me before appearing so please do not submit your comment more than once. I will publish it when I see it.

Good luck.

UPDATE

This contest has closed. The winner has been announced at http://www.worldhistoryblog.com/2008/05/winner-of-book-giveway.html.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

New Contact Policy

I am changing my contact policy for this blog. I will delete the old policy and connect this post to the blog template.

If you want to contact Miland Brown, send an e-mail to milandbrown at gmail.com. Yes, replace the "and" with @ for it to work.

I hope this will make it easier for publishers to contact me directly when seeking me for reviews. (This is happening at an increasing pace here.) Also, if someone wants me to check out a site I can do so easily with no fear a spam site will appear even briefly in my comments awaiting approval. Finally, people who are angry with me for something can snap off a nasty e-mail to me more easily and feel better. I probably will not respond to these but at least the reader will know there comment went somewhere other that the delete button on my Blogger dashboard.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Returning to the History Blogosphere

Last Thursday night, I received word my father-in-law was in the hospital. The next day, he was dead. It was sudden, shocking, and very devastating. After travel for the funeral and to be with family, I am finally back home.

During this time away, I only got on the Web one time. It was humbling for me to see how unimportant blogging can be sometimes. My blog went for a week without a post. So what? Life went on and I doubt many people even noticed.

I have no intent on stopping blogging. I will try to maintain this blog for the rest of my life. However, breaks in blogging are going to happen. And further, someday I will die and this blog will be "history." I have always known this intellectually but sometimes it takes something like this to drive the point home.

Sorry to sound depressing. I am OK. And for the time being, so is this blog.