Explorations in Non-Fiction

I really have no clue why I find these so interesting, except that they combine adventure, archaeology and anthropology, chutzpah and nature — perhaps a combination I find irresistible. My favorite adventures in history from recent reads:

A Land So Strange: The Epic Journey of Cabeza De Vaca, The Extraordinary Tale of a Shipwrecked Spaniard Who Walked Across America in the Sixteenth Century. Harrowing is a good word to describe this story, and I found myself wondering how anyone could find the will to live under the circumstances which De Vaca and companions found themselves in the mid 1500’s after being shipwrecked. Their faith kept them alive, I believe, and that is a good lesson for us today.

The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey – Fascinating account of a grueling expedition into the Amazon by the former President and his son. Researched well and never dry. Highly recommended.

In Ruins: A Journey Through History, Art and Literature – Truly unique in perspective, this will fascinate anyone interested in history and how we view it.

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus – Extremely interesting look at the Americas as they were before Europeans. My interest was in the North American civilizations and how they had already changed (mostly disappeared) before that time. Unfortunately, very little is here about that and it’s mostly mixed in with other topics; but that’s not the author’s fault, since not much is KNOWN about it. Much of the book covers Central American civilizations, which are also fascinating. However, without understanding how it all fit together over time, I think the observations here won’t make much sense. I didn’t enjoy the order of presentation, and the author seemed to wander at times. Fortunately, the notes and bibliography are excellent, and even the index is good.

A Voyage Long and Strange: Rediscovering the New World – Horwitz journeys through America to the places where the earliest European adventurers appeared. Sometimes condescending, the author succeeds in his plot to learn more about the time between Columbus and Jamestown, and passes his thoughts on to readers who he hopes are interested enough in history to care. Well-developed and written with plenty of sarcastic humor, be prepared for his sometimes smart-aleck attitudes about life then and now.

Travels of William Bartram – Fascinating narratives of the naturalist and artist Bartram as he walked, rode, and paddled throughout the southeastern US in the 1770’s.

Over the Edge of the World: Magellan’s Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe by Laurence Bergreen – I’m going to use that word again… Fascinating. The research involved in writing this history of the first recorded trip around the globe was staggering, and that was impressive enough. But instead of a dry list of dates, names and places, Bergreen attempts, successfully, to explain the determination of the men involved and the reasons for their actions, from many points of view. Few people now can imagine the isolation of a seagoing vessel in the 16th century, let alone a years-long trip to a completely unknown part of the world. This book may bring that closer for you. I found it a bit difficult to keep the Spanish and Portuguese names in order, but was rewarded for sticking with it.

The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann – The most recent read for me, this was another which I devoured at full speed. Very well organized and extremely readable, this is a thorough account of the explorer P.H. Fawcett’s life as an explorer in the Amazon and his search for a lost civilization. The author followed in the footsteps of Fawcett’s last, mysterious trek as far as it was known, after so many others had tried and failed to discover his fate.

Next up:
1453: The Holy War for Constantinople and the Clash of Islam and the West by Roger Crowley
Descarte’s Secret Notebook: A True Tale of Mathematics, Mysticism, and the Quest to Understand the Universe by Amir D. Aczel

© Jan McClintock of We Need More Shelves

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