A Land So Strange

In the 16th century, Catholic Spain -- the sponsor of Christopher Columbus and colonizer of Cuba, Mexico, and much of the future United States -- explored and exploited the New World more than any other nation, under the banner of "Christianization." Historian Res‚ndez's splendid account shows that pious Spain's true desire was gold, exemplified in Hern n Cort‚s's devastating conquest of the Aztecs, after which breathtaking riches were shipped back. In the same vein, ambitious explorer/conqueror P nfilo de Narv ez mounted a massive expedition to Florida in 1528, which included Royal Treasurer Cabeza de Vaca. A Caribbean hurricane drove the flotilla 900 miles off course, and after landing, the Spaniards began an ill-fated overland search for gold. Only 4 out of 300 would survive the journey, including Cabeza de Vaca. His epic, nightmarish journey in the New World included a crossing the Gulf of Mexico by raft, fighting with hostile Indians, resorting to cannibalism, being taken as a slave, becoming a "medicine man," and walking from Texas to Mexico. Res‚ndez's tirelessly researched and picaresque narrative describes every step of this dramatic survivalist adventure, while providing insightful background on topics like 16th-century navigation and Indian cultures. A Land So Strange will make you appreciate the comforts of home.

April 19: "What you see first, after the starting gun's crack, is a column of bobbing runners, thousands of them, surging downhill..."

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