Most of us base our understanding of early American history on what we learned in elementary school years ago. The author, himself a history major in college and already the author of the successful book, "Confederates in the Attic," realized there was a gap in his knowledge of the details of American history from the Vikings' discovery through the Pilgrims' arrival in 1620. This book reveals the messy historic details of this period of American history, an accounting of what actually (probably) happened, sometimes gruesome and depressing, but always fascinating. The author alternates history with adventurous interviews with current residents/experts of the geographical areas covered. At first I didn't think I would enjoy this approach, but the author manages to tie everything together.
Horwitz tells us of the failed explorations and settlements before the Pilgrims. He discusses the Vikings; the exploration and settlement efforts of Columbus; the explorations of Coronado, Hernando De Soto, and others; the struggle between the French colony of La Caroline and the Spanish colony of St. Augustine and the story of the Fountain of Youth; the abandoned Roanoke Island colony; the Jamestown settlement with the history of John Smith, Pochanotas, and her English husband John Rolfe; and finally the Plymouth Colony with a more accurate description than we usually see in the Thanksgiving story. Horwitz learns, however that mythic history is a powerful force as it is something we choose; it serves different purposes than true history.