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Unearthing History in 'A Voyage Long and Strange'

Book Tour is a Web feature and podcast. Each week, we present leading authors of fiction and nonfiction as they read from and discuss their work.

Author Tony Horwitz decided to write A Voyage Long and Strange when he realized he knew almost nothing about the first Europeans to arrive in America — the people, as he puts it, between Columbus and the Pilgrims. So the author sprang into action and began a three-year odyssey across the continent to try to find answers.

He visited Plymouth, Roanoke Island and old Viking settlements in Newfoundland. He followed Christopher Columbus' trail to the Dominican Republic and Francisco Coronado's path through Mexico. At the end of his journeys, Horwitz arrived with a better appreciation of the brutal history of the Americas — and an acquaintanceship with a cast of bizarre characters.

Horwitz previously wrote about the world of Civil War re-enactors in his book Confederates in the Attic. This time, the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer dresses up in the creaky armor of conquistador re-enactors in Florida.

Such travel is nothing new for a reporter who has covered Sudan, the Persian Gulf and Northern Ireland. Horwitz has said he enjoys writing about extreme and uncomfortable places. Earlier books had the history buff tracing the journeys of Captain Cook and hitchhiking in the Australian outback.

"The past leaches into the present," Horwitz says, "and we're still haunted by events that occurred decades or centuries ago."

This reading of A Voyage Long and Strangewas recorded in May 2008 at the Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington, D.C.

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Neda Ulaby
Neda Ulaby reports on arts, entertainment, and cultural trends for NPR's Arts Desk.