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

Tony Horwitz




Trade Paperback

464 Pages



Request Desk Copy Request Exam Copy

A Washington Post Best Book of the Year
A San Francisco Chronicle 50 Best Nonfiction Book of the Year

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. Determined to find out what happened in between, he embarks on a journey of rediscovery, following in the footsteps of the many Europeans who preceded the Pilgrims to America.

Blending history, myth, and misadventure, A Voyage Long and Strange captures the awe and drama of first contact. Vikings, conquistadors, and French voyageurs are among those who roamed an unknown continent in quest of grapes, gold, converts, even a cure for syphilis. Though most failed, their 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 is enshrined and what is forgotten. Displaying his trademark talent for humor, narrative, and historical insight, A Voyage Long and Strange allows readers to rediscover the New World.


Praise for A Voyage Long and Strange

"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. Horwitz is probably best known as the author of Confederates in the Attic, an exploration of how the American Civil War and its cultural backwash still move otherwise semi-normal Americans to do crazy things, like sleep outdoors in 19th-century-style long johns while pretending to be Abner Doubleday. In that book as in this one, Horwitz assumes the pose of a baby-boomer Everyman, overschooled but undereducated. He is chagrined at the basic historical facts he was once taught but can no longer remember or, worse, never knew to begin with. Like so many of us, he is the incarnation of Father Guido Sarducci's Five Minute University, where degrees are awarded for reciting the two or three things the average liberal-arts graduate remembers from four years of college. In A Voyage Long and Strange, Horwitz is surprised to learn how little he knows about the Europeans who 'discovered' America. (One thing he does remember from college is to wrap those scare-quote marks around politically contentious words like 'discover.') His astonishing ignorance dawned on him during a visit to Plymouth Rock. 'I'd mislaid an entire century, the one separating Columbus's sail in 1492 from Jamestown's founding in 16-0-something,' he writes. '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.' Horwitz resolves to remedy his ignorance by embarking on an intensive self-tutorial mixed with lots of reporting and running around. He looks for Columbus's remains in the Dominican Republic; tracks Coronado through Mexico, Texas and even Kansas; sifts evidence of the Vikings' landing in Newfoundland; and gives the Anglos their due in tidewater Virginia. The result is popular history of the most accessible sort. The pace never flags, even for easily distracted readers, because Horwitz knows how to quick-cut between historical narrative and a breezy account of his own travels. It's the same method he used in Confederates, deployed with the same success, and unlike many other, less journalistic histories, in which the material is displayed at a curator's remove, it has the immense value of injecting the past into the present—showing us history as an element of contemporary life, something that still surrounds us and presses in on us, whether we know it or not. Usually not. The stories he tells are full of vivid characters and wild detail . . . He is an energetic debunker."—Andrew Ferguson, The New York Times Book Review

"Horwitz traveled from Newfoundland to the Dominican Republic, throughout the American South and Southwest and up to New England, vastly different zones once equally uncharted, now distinct and unrelated. On the road, he spent part of his time reading historical books informing him of what happened in these spots, and then part of his time seeking out guides who led him to the sites, or shared the local lore as it has been handed down through the centuries. He has an ear for a good yarn and an instinct for the trail leading to an entertaining anecdote, and he deftly weaves his reportorial finds with his historical material."—Nina Burleigh, The Washington Post

"Honest, wonderfully written, and heroically researched . . . Horwitz unearths whole chapters of American history that have been ignored."—The Boston Globe

"As a journalist, Horwitz is ever thorough, seeking out the most knowledgeable sources, asking all the important questions, and reporting facts in a manner that is clear and, for the most part, unbiased . . . Just the antidote for those of us who have clung helplessly to our shaky third-grade memories."—The Miami Herald

"Horwitz is a very funny writer, especially of long set pieces, and there is no shortage of material on the forgotten margins of the New World, where it all began."—Newsday

"Readers of Horwitz's 1998 classic about Civil War reenactors, Confederates in the Attic, won't need to be persuaded to pick up his latest work. Horwitz's turf stretches from the first Viking explorers to the landing of the Pilgrims—but it wouldn't be Horwitzian if he didn't also engage with their contemporary avatars, from the Vinland Motel (on Newfoundland's Viking Trail) to the Greek Outhouse (a local term for the neoclassical canopy hovering over Plymouth Rock and its surrounding patch of sand). This is a work of history, but it's also about what Americans do with (and to) that history."—Daniel Okrent, Fortune

"As always, Horwitz is a smart, hilarious, and informative guide."—Outside

"When people refer to 'Western civilization,' Fernandez-Armesto contends, 'they mean, essentially, an Atlantic continuum comprising parts of western Europe and much or most of the Americas,' which involved a projection of people and beliefs and ways of life that ‘was strictly unprecedented when it began.' From that perspective, the Pilgrims hardly loom large, and were late to the table as well. That is roughly the point of embarkation for Tony Horwitz, too, in his rich cultural travelogue, A Voyage Long and Strange, in which he visits far-flung sites and retraces extensive exploration routes of this continent taken by Europeans long before the arrival of the Mayflower . . . Reading A Voyage Long and Strange will seem like one's own first contact, coming face to face with an America remote from the pages of the daily newspaper but vibrantly alive and refreshingly various. By balancing the deep history—often bloody and chilling—against today's inhabitants, the apparently gregarious and certainly witty Horwitz has taken what would otherwise be a miscellany of experiences and turned them into a road show well worth following."—Art Winslow, Chicago Tribune

"By turns history and travelogue, A Voyage Long and Strange is instructive and charming. Horwitz sure can spin a yarn. He re-creates the wonder—and the horror—of the explorers' encounters with exotic creatures. And his thumbnail sketches of the first-comers are tight and bright."—Glenn C. Altschuler, The Baltimore Sun

"Plymouth Rock is iconic in a uniquely American way, which is to say that most Americans know it is historically significant but have little idea why. In his wry historical travelogue, A Voyage Long and Strange: Rediscovering the New World, Tony Horwitz aims to fill that void and plenty of others between the year 1492, when Columbus sailed to the New World, and the early 1600s, when England established itself here. Horwitz colors those fuzzy years in the collective American memory with vivid characters and violent tales of early European exploits. He lends depth to stories that many Americans know, from disputed accounts of thanksgiving meals to the ravages of European conquest and disease on Native Americans, and he introduces many they do not. Like most Americans, Horwitz—a history major, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and acclaimed author best known for Confederates in the Attic—did not learn these things in school. He was disappointed by his first visit to Plymouth Rock, which 'looked like a fossilized potato.' Abashed at his ignorance, Horwitz pored over seldom-cracked history books, letters and journals chronicling early European excursions to America. Then, armed with wit and newfound wisdom, he traveled to many seminal places to find what remains. For the most part, they are not vacation spots, and Horwitz weaves his poignant and hilarious sufferings into this book as he did in Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before."—Melissa Allison, The Seattle Times

"[A] mordantly amusing . . . readable, often laughable, sometimes troubling description of what happened between 1492 and the first recognizably American beginnings a century later."—Winston-Salem Journal

"Horwitz was staring at Plymouth Rock, wondering why it looked so small, when it occurred to him that he knew very little about American history between Columbus' discovery and the arrival of the Pilgrims. So he set out on one of his inimitable journeys (Confederates in the Attic, Baghdad Without a Map) to fill in the gaps. Somehow, beneath the freeways and strip malls, he finds evidence of the early explorers. You'll remember these names from fifth grade—Ponce de Leon, Hernando de Soto—but you might not remember how brutal that time was. There's much to cringe about (and little to feel proud about), but Horwitz's humor, meticulous research and ability to tell engaging stories make it palatable."—Laurie Hertzel, The Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

"Entertaining, insightful . . . Rich with reading pleasure."—The Christian Science Monitor

"A Voyage Long and Strange was inspired by a trip Horwitz took to see Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts a few years ago. Like many other modern-day pilgrims of American history who visit the landmark, he was puzzled to find 'a boulder, five feet square,' with a 'badly mended cleft in the middle. It looked like a fossilized potato' . . . While A Voyage Long and Strange sheds light on and rectifies some misinformation about the exploration of America, Horwitz emphasizes he's not attempting to diminish historical myths and legends. Indeed, the story of the pilgrims and Thanksgiving, however factually incorrect, serves a purpose. 'Too often, the real story, as is the case here, is very messy,' Horwitz says. 'It's an evolutionary story, and it's not always a happy story. In fact, it's pretty terrible. That's a much harder type of material to draw inspiration and an uplifting message from. So we naturally create these myths, and then cling to them.'"—Regis Behe, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

"A fascinating story, filled with adventure, Vikings, French voyageurs and those Pilgrims."—The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

"A droll and debunking road warrior's view."—The Star-Ledger (Newark)

"It's one of the most quoted 20th-century lines about literature. 'Literature is news that stays news.' And Ezra Pound was right. That's why we keep repeating his line. History has a harder time of it. After all, it's stubbornly tied to aged or aging facts. Not to say it can't be made new, paraphrasing another famous phrase from Pound. Historians with the gifts of storytelling manage this feat. So does Tony Horwitz, a writer with a gift for merging past and present. His new book, A Voyage Long and Strange: Rediscovering the New World, follows the template he devised for Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War and Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before. He intertwines history with travels to the places where history happened, including tales of the people he meets along the way. His is an immensely satisfying hybrid of history, journalism and social commentary . . . He has a knack for finding people who give his story flesh and blood, comedy and dignity—people like Walter Mares, editor of the local paper in Clifton, Ariz., who declares, 'Our whole sense of history is twisted. The Pilgrims, they were boat people. Johnny-come-latelies." So why, Horwitz keeps wondering, do some stories about the past endure, even when facts contradict them? A member of the Old Colony Club in Plymouth offers one memorable explanation: Myth is more important than history, History is arbitrary, a collection of facts.'"—Robert L. Pincus, The San Diego Union-Tribune

"A winning and eye-opening read . . . Horwitz's charm, smarts, impeccable research and curiosity make this a voyage worth taking."—The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)

"By conveying our past so heartily, handsomely and winsomely, Tony Horwitz does America proud."—The Providence Journal

"I've long been a fan of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Tony Horwitz's work. His style blends hard-nose reporting skills with savvy storytelling to create readable historical narrative. Frankly, I hate history. Not so much the concept, but the writing done on the subject thereof, which tends to be text-book dry. Horwitz has taught me about Civil War history (Confederates in the Attic), Captain Cook (Blue Latitudes) and the first Gulf War (Baghdad Without a Map). Now I'm about halfway through his mostly historically based work to date, A Voyage Long and Strange—the story of early explorers discovering the Americas. Ever astute to irony, Horwitz prevails upon readers to enhance their grade school knowledge of famous but glazed-over names such as Columbus (who never actually set foot on land that would become the United States) and De Coronado (an excellent example of dogged greed overcoming sanity). I wouldn't necessarily call it summer reading, but it will shed some new light on the tropical and coastal locations where you're vacationing."—Sarah Kucharski, Smokey Mountain News

"Horwitz visits the Vikings sites in Newfoundland and Christopher Columbus' alleged grave in the Dominican Republic, but the book really sings when he hits the heavy-metal conquistadors like Francisco de Coronado, who headed up from Mexico and worked his way through what is now New Mexico, Arizona and Texas, and Hernando de Soto, who came through Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas and eastern Texas. The meeting of Native Americans and the Spanish explorers was initially comic, then tragic, with massacres and epidemics . . . During his travels, Horwitz has comic meetings with park rangers and historical re-enactors at almost-forgotten historical sites, like the French Protestant settlement at Fort Caroline, Fla., where the settlers were slaughtered by the Spanish, and he addresses the mysteries of the disappearance of the Jamestown settlers. He explores the myths and legends of the founding of Florida and America itself. Like his best seller, Confederates in the Attic, where he chronicled the bizarre world of Civil War re-enactors, Horwitz strikes the perfect balance between history, black humor and his own odyssey of driving thousands of miles to find the few remaining buffalo or an old Spanish massacre site."—Dylan Foley, The Denver Post

"For many readers hearing the words 'history' and 'book' in the same sentence invokes groans and nightmarish memories of high school. Tony Horwitz's A Voyage Long and Strange: Rediscovering the New World not only changes that, it also irrevocably changes the way you view the New World—past, present, and future. No small tasks, but this is no small author. Horwitz masterfully and gracefully steers us through the annals of early American history and his own travel narrative, keeping us fascinated all the while. And he even manages to make us laugh along the way. The prologue begins on a humorous note. Horwitz spends a night in Plymouth while on a road trip, having chosen the Plymouth exit only because he didn't want to pull off the interstate before a baseball game on the radio ended. The following day he goes to see Plymouth Rock, which he likens to 'a fossilized potato.' While at the site, he speaks with a park ranger who observes, 'Americans learn about 1492 and 1620 as kids and that's all they remember as adults . . . The rest of the story is blank.' Horwitz plumbs the depths of his own knowledge of early American history and finds only snippets. So he sets out to fill in the blanks, taking us along on his journey of rediscovery. The journey begins not with Columbus and the West Indies—though Horwitz gets there eventually—as some might expect, but rather with the Vikings and Newfoundland. Horwitz's precise use of anecdotes and quotes helps to illuminate these historical figures, rendering them round, memorable characters in the vibrant story of the New World rather than mere names. For example, we learn that the only problem Erik the Red encounters in Greenland is that his 'wife converted to Christianity and refused to sleep with her pagan husband, much to his displeasure.' The book is full of details like this—we also learn that, upon tasting iguana for the first time Columbus remarked, 'Tastes like chicken.' These colorfully depicted characters propel the reader through history. As do the colorful modern-day characters Horwitz encounters during his travels retracing the footsteps of the early explorers of the New World. It's A Voyage Long and Strange all right. Horwitz meets fascinating and sometimes hilarious people and finds himself in equally interesting and humorous situations, offering them up for the reader's delight. Take, for instance, his experience in an Indian sweat lodge. He hyperventilates. He writhes. He pokes fun at himself all the while. Not to misrepresent this book as overly light. Amid the fun, Horwitz takes many deeply and dearly held American myths to task and dispels them, one after another. He doesn't shy away from difficult and sensitive topics such as the treatment of the Indians at the hands of the European explorers and settlers. Further, Horwitz sheds light on the historical underpinnings of several contemporary issues, large and small, helping the reader to see the dynamic nature of history and illuminating the long line that is past, present and future. The chapter titled 'Dominican Republic: You think there are still Indians?' is particularly powerful. The lingering aftereffects of colonization resonate subtly throughout daily life in the Caribbean, and Horwitz portrays this perfectly. Sometimes the note of resentment about European conquest sounds loudly—one Dominican man Horwitz interviews curses Christopher Columbus and then explains, 'This was a rich island. He took away all the gold and other goods and ever since we've been poor.' However, Horwitz takes care to present multiple sides of even the most contentious historical and contemporary issues. You always get a sense of his cool, journalistic impartiality . . . A Voyage Long and Strange is a thought-provoking, thoroughly researched and, above all, engaging account of early American history, tightly woven with Horwitz's travels. The result is a rich tapestry teeming with vibrant characters, memorable facts and fascinating tidbits that reads like great fiction. History, after all, is a kind of story; shouldn't it read like one?"—Mya Guarnieri, The Jerusalem Post

"Tony Horwitz is a master at charting the historical currents that still steer us. In his best-selling Confederates in the Attic and Blue Latitudes, he explored sites and events of momentous importance and plumbed the attitudes, opinions and sometimes goofy behavior of those shaped or haunted by what happened at these places. But despite his better than average knowledge of the past, during a recent visit to Plymouth Rock Horwitz was shocked by how little he knew of America's earliest explorers and conquerors. '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,' he writes in his latest book, A Voyage Long and Strange: Rediscovering the New World. In an effort to correct this deficiency, Horwitz embarked on a months-long peregrination of North America and the Caribbean, following in the footsteps of a rogues' gallery of rough and ready men—Erik the Red, Columbus, Coronado, De Soto, Cabeza de Vaca, Sir Walter Raleigh and John Smith. As in his earlier books, A Voyage Long and Strange braids the stories of these past adventurers with his modern observations at the sites most notably associated with them. The most striking general themes to emerge are the underwhelming, if not miserable, aspects of many of these sites and the general public's indifference to the enormity of what happened there . . . A Voyage Long and Strange is less a celebration than a thoughtful meditation. It stands as an important and accessible book that should go far in redressing the general appalling lack of knowledge about America's earliest explorers and the peoples whose lives were so profoundly affected by their actions."—John Sledge, Press-Register (Mobile)

"Irreverent, effervescent reexamination of early exploration in the Americas by peripatetic, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Horwitz. What do Americans really know about the discovery of their continent? Visiting the sadly puny Plymouth Rock prompted this energetic, likable author to delve into the historic record and sniff out the real story behind America's creation myth, from one section of the country to the other. The Vikings arrived first around 1000 CE, when Leif Eiriksson settled for a spell in Newfoundland, enjoying the grapes and mild weather before being run off by the native Skraelings. Horwitz sought out the probable descendants of these natives, the Micmac, who invited him to a cleansing ceremony in their sweat lodge. Next, the author studied the mixed-up voyages of Columbus, whose ignorance of the globe led him to believe that the eastern Bahamas, where he first landed, was the Orient. While the Spanish were claiming the Caribbean, Mexico and Peru, Ponce de León, a veteran of Columbus's second voyage, struck Daytona Beach in 1513 and named the land La Florida. Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca made inroads through Florida and Texas between 1528 and 1536, while ruthless Hernando de Soto cut throughout the South a pitiless swath of destruction and slaughter of natives. These voyages came long before Sir Walter Raleigh sent English colonists to settle on Roanoke Island, Virginia, in 1585. By 1540, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado penetrated the Southwest from Mexico in search of fabled cities, and in Florida, a little-known Huguenot settlement established in 1564 at La Caroline was wiped out by Spanish invaders. The author revisited all of these sites to speak to the locals, who are often as colorful as the forgotten history he was tracking. Accessible to all ages, hands-on and immensely readable, this book invites readers to search out America's story for themselves."—Kirkus Reviews

"Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Horwitz has presented what could be described as a guide for those who are historically ignorant of the 'lost century' between the first voyage of Columbus and the establishment of Jamestown in 1607. In this informative, whimsical, and thoroughly enjoyable account, Horwitz describes the exploits of various explorers and conquistadores and enriches the stories with his own experiences when visiting some of the lands they 'discovered.' Horwitz writes in a breezy, engaging style, so this combination of popular history and travelogue will be ideal for general readers."—Booklist (starred review)

"Realizing that his knowledge of American history between Columbus's discovery and Plymouth Rock over 100 years later was sketchy at best, Pulitzer Prize-winning former journalist Horwitz sets out to educate himself with his own explorations. He intertwines his experiences retracing the early conquistadors, adventurers, and entrepreneurs through such regions as Newfoundland, the Dominican Republic, and the American South, Southwest, and New England with thoroughly researched accounts of the territories themselves, the natives who were historically affected, and the motives of the explorers. Along the way, Horwitz meets many interesting people who have studied and/or appropriated the early discoverers for their own purposes: a conquistador reenactor who likens De Soto to a drug lord, the Zuni tribe of New Mexico, an expert on 16th-century combat, the fraternal Improved Order of the Red Men, and the Dominican belief in a Columbus jinx. At the end of his journey, Horwitz recognizes that all the truths he uncovered will never quash the myths of American history, especially the Pilgrim mystique. This readable and vastly entertaining history travelog is highly recommended for public libraries."—Margaret Atwater-Singer, Library Journal

"A Voyage Long and Strange is a history-fueled, self-imposed mission of rediscovery, a travelogue that sets out to explore the surprisingly long list of explorers who discovered America, and what discovered means anyway, starting with the Vikings in A.D. 1000, and ending up on the Mayflower. Horwitz even dons conquistador gear, making the narrative surprisingly fun and funny, even as he spends a lot of time describing just how badly Columbus and subsequently the Spanish treated people . . . as a character himself, [Horwitz] is friendly and always working hard to listen and bear witness."—Robert Sullivan, Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt


The Pilgrims didn't think much of Cape Cod. "A hideous and desolate wilderness," William Bradford called it. "Full of wild beasts and wild men." Rather than stay, a small party from the Mayflower sailed ahead, searching for a winter...

Read the full excerpt



  • Explorer's Take NYC - A Voyage Long and Strange

    What happened in North America between Columbus's sail in 1492 and the Pilgrims' arrival in 1620? We followed two explorers as they searched for answers on the streets on NYC for Tony Horwitz's A Voyage Long and Strange.

  • Tony Horwitz: A Voyage Long and Strange

    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.

MORE MEDIA Access more related media on the web



  • Tony Horwitz

  • Tony Horwitz is the bestselling author of Blue Latitudes, Confederates in the Attic, and Baghdad without a Map. He is also a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who has worked for The Wall Street Journal and The New Yorker. He lives in Massachusetts with his wife, Geraldine Brooks, and their two sons.

  • Tony Horwitz Randi Baird
    Tony Horwitz