Historic Expeditions

I love reading travel accounts from bygone eras, when so much of the world was still unknown and could be accessed only by foot, horse or boat. Here are some fascinating accounts of historic journeys:

The Fourth Part of the World by Toby Lester
Click to view The Fourth Part of the World in the SPL catalogThe Waldseemüller world map of 1507 is the 1st that shows the New World as a distinct entity called America, named after Columbus’s contemporary, Amerigo Vespucci, who sailed to South America.  Although this book centers around that spectacular map (of which the only remaining copy is on display at the Library of Congress – go see it if you are ever in D.C.!), it is far more wide-ranging, touching on some of the many expeditions preceding Columbus’s era, from ancient times up to Marco Polo’s famous and disputable journeys.

Click to view Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher in the SPL catalogShort Nights of the Shadow Catcher by Timothy Egan
Timothy Egan (Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner) gives us a compulsively readable account of Edward Curtis’s life and work.  At the close of the 19th century, Curtis realized that the traditional lifestyle of many Native American tribes was quickly disappearing.  He set out on a 3 decade quest crisscrossing the United States and Canada in an attempt to preserve their culture, not only with his now iconic photographs but also through using wax cylinders to make audio recordings of traditional songs and also documenting in writing native languages and myths.  Likened to “an Indiana Jones with a camera,” Curtis undertook myriad rugged adventures to document more than eighty remote tribes.  Though this fascinating book is accompanied by a small selection of pictures, I found myself wanting to view more of Curtis’s photographs while reading the story.  Fortunately, this was easily accomplished by checking out some of the library’s many books of Curtis’s work.

A Voyage Long and Strange by Tony HorwitzClick to view A Voyage Long and Strange in the SPL catalog
Many chronicles of U.S. history start with the landing of English colonists in Jamestown in the early 1600s.  Horwitz, though, unearths the stories of America’s very early European explorers ranging from the Vikings 1,000 years ago to the French, Italian and Spanish explorers of the 1500s.  Europeans had traveled through half of the current-day contiguous 48 states before the 1600s (did you know that the Spanish were tromping through Kansas in full armor?).  After reading this intriguing account, you will view American history in a new way!

Click to view Undaunted Courage in the SPL catalogUndaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose
Based on journals and other 1st person accounts, this book vividly reconstructs Lewis and Clark’s 2,000 mile expedition with fascinating details about river travel, mountain portages and encounters with Indian tribes.  Ambrose’s page-turning account brings alive this significant westward expedition.

If this has whetted your literary wanderlust, check out the plethora of other books listed in the Library Catalog with the subject Voyages and Travels.  Readers, do you have any other titles to suggest?


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