The Secret Token: Myth, Obsession, and the Search for the Lost Colony of Roanoke

Andrew Lawler. Doubleday, $29.95 (448p) ISBN 978-0-385-54201-2
Part detective novel, part historical reckoning, Lawler’s engrossing book traces the story of—and the obsessive search for—the lost colony of Roanoke, the first English settlement in the New World, which disappeared without a trace in 1590, save for a “secret token” carved into a tree: “Croatoan.” Lawler (Why Did the Chicken Cross the World?), a contributing editor for Archaeology magazine, provides detailed historical context about early North American colonization and brings to life the personalities behind the colony, including Walter Raleigh, its powerful backer, and Simão Fernandes, a Portuguese-born pilot often painted as the villain of the expedition. Digging in archives, visiting archeological excavations, and consulting previous leads, Lawler tries to wring a conclusion from the extant evidence: did the settlers die; did they merge with local Native American villages; did they leave the area? In the end, he decides it is more important to ponder why the story of Roanoke still resonates today, leading to a thoughtful and timely discourse about race and identity centered on Virginia Dare, the first English child born in the Americas, and since appropriated by both pro- and anti-immigrant voices. Without solving a long-standing (and likely unsolvable) historical mystery, Lawler makes a strong case for why historical myths matter. (June)
Reviewed on: 03/19/2018
Release date: 06/05/2018
Genre: Nonfiction
Compact Disc - 978-0-525-63259-7
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
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