At first thought this delightful and well researched book about the “discovery” of America by Europeans seems just like an interesting retracing of the “missing” history between 1492 and 1620 in North America. Tony Horowitz is a very interesting journalist who recounts the travels of Vikings and Conquistadors by traveling their trails and by intermingling their history with life and current events along those routes once taken.
On a deeper level however, the accounts (or reconstituted histories in the case of the Vikings) of those “discoverers” in their own words or those of people who traveled with them reveals attitudes toward land, resources, and people (Native Americans) which are truly disrespectful, selfish and downright rapacious. Granted, our reading of these histories is shaped by our values and judgments, but the quest for gold, the destruction of native crops and societies, and the enslavement of native people as pack animals and sex objects, lays out the basic principles of the worst tendencies in what later becomes American history.
If environmentalism and sustainability are values that we hold paramount, then this more complete, inclusive view of our North American history is instructive for us in today’s world of the quest for riches, the destruction of cultures and societies we do not understand, the “enslavement” of the poor, the disrespect for our environment, and sexploitation.
Hooray for Horowitz who brings our history alive and helps us know more about the past and hence more about ourselves.