This book is an early history of the United States that ends with Jamestown and Plymouth Rock. Though I took my time getting through this, it was a pleasant read. I was definitely interested in this part of our history. In my travels out West I would come across historical monuments or museum displays mentioning the Spanish in the early 1500's - almost 100 years before Jamestown and Plymouth Rock. It all remained very vague to me. Tony Horwitz realized the chasm in his own knowledge between Columbus and the Pilgrims, so he started researching - starting in the library, then turning to letters and journals of earlier explorers. But then he did what I would love to do - he traveled to all the places, retracing the travels of the early explorers, trying to locate the places, visiting archives, museums, historians and regular people who are interested in the local history. The chapters include historical facts he has unearthed interspersed with stories of Horwitz's travels and the people he met, the celebrations he participated in. He expands on the things we might have learned in school or what we are told in tourist centers and how that differs from what really happened.
Horwitz starts with the Scandinavians and there was more than Lief Eiriksson, but seems like New Foundland was just too harsh for colonization, but they kept fishing the shores. Then of course there is Columbus. I remember reading some alternative histories of his voyages back around 1992. I guess it never ceases to wrench my gut on how many native peoples were totally annihilated in the Caribbean. But I just never knew the destruction the Spanish brought about on the mainland. Coronado was violent throughout his travels, but De Soto just wiped out whole Indian tribes throughout the Southeast.
I marked off a passage which epitomized much of the book for me: "In history class, all we heard about was the Forty-niners and mountain men and Pike's fucking Peak," Walter (an Arizonan who can trace his ancestry to the Spanish) said. "Anglos called us 'chili eaters' and looked down on us as newcomers, even though we'd been there three hundred years before the so-called pioneers came west." (p. 147) When I looked at the map, it was amazing how much of the US the Spanish explored before the English got there - along the California coast, then NM, AZ, TX, OK, KS then FL, GA, SC, NC, TN, AL, MS, AR, LA and only after all of those was St. Augustine settled.