‘Crossing the Continent’ by Robert Goodwin
Robert Goodwin writes an interesting, if a bit disjointed, account of the “first African-American” in Crossing the Continent 1527-1540: The Story of the First African-American Explorer of the American South. It’s interesting simply because of its general topic: one of the many failed Spanish attempts to explore Florida and the American southwest. Add the “first African-American” into the mix and you’ve got something particularly unique.
What makes the book a tad disjointed is its organization and style. Goodwin arranges the book jumpily, starting in the middle, retreating to various beginnings, and ending up in modern America with more puzzlement than definitive answers. What really makes the book jumbled, however, is Goodwin’s addition of of time-jumping. While he mainly confines himself to moments within the sixteenth century, Goodwin also occasionally leaps centuries into the present day. Sometimes this is done with admirable elegance and he uses the leap to make meaningful points about the story he’s telling. Other times, it’s less tidy and comes off as random.
On the whole, however, it’s a very interesting book that takes a detailed and thoughtful look at the less successful side of Spanish conquest in the New World. In the neat narrative of broad history, the Spanish seem to triumph handily over Mexico and South America. But in taking the time to explore this historical moment, some forty years after Columbus, Goodwin provides an interesting counterpoint to the accepted version of history more common on library shelves.