Book Review: Roanoke: Solving the Mystery of the Lost Colony


Today I’m reviewing a book I’ve read in the past but that keeps me coming back and that is Roanoke: Solving the Mystery of the Lost Colony by Lee Miller.

Being born and raised in North Carolina, I’ve gotten a great education in several topics ranging from pirates to spooky ghost stories. We have almost every conceivable geographic feature with the only exceptions being desert, tundra or taiga. The lands were populated by many different nations before the first settlers attempted to land on the shores of the outer banks and this has led to some pretty interesting history. My home state is full of a wonderful and sometimes tragic past. Part of that past and history, and arguably our most famous tale, is that of the Lost Colony of Roanoke. This is such a famous story that acting greats, such as Andy Griffith, have been a part of the yearly outdoor stage play held on the island of Roanoke, and influences of the tale can be seen in shows like Supernatural. Not to mention that there are no shortage of shows on the History Channel, Travel Channel and Discovery Channel referring to the forsaken colony.

Now we could go into a great deal of detail and speculation of the colony and its fate but I’d like to focus this post on the review of this book. As a trained historian I can get a good sense at the work and research that the author, Lee Miller, put into this book. She brought her anthropological background into an investigative forefront to try and give the world a chance to solve a mystery or at the very least the evidence as she saw it. Many of her other works focus on her Native American heritage and are worth checking out but those are much more academic while Roanoke: Solving the Mystery of the Lost Colony reads much more like a mystery, “whodonit”. So for this book the author took a change of pace and went out on a limb to formulate something different.

A casual reader might look at this story and have a basic familiarity to the story and decide to read more. The layout of the narrative is just that for the most part, a narrative. Miller isn’t trying to give you the entire history of what ifs, she is bringing to light often not discussed evidence of what she, and others, theorize might have happened and why. Again, she pulls in the narrative like a mystery novel more than a thesis topic but in the end that is what it is. The author’s prose for me was a draw as well. It felt as though she was speaking to a class that had some basic knowledge of the topic but she threw in some tidbits that kept the story going with some suspense and intrigue. However, this could be where some readers might shy away. She wrote some parts as if she was talking and other parts were written very academically. Those of us that have been through similar coursework as Miller might appreciate this switch every now and then but others might not. I know in my historical work that I’ve published, I decided to move the historiography to the back because that isn’t the draw for bringing readers into the story unless your a college professor. Miller’s academic writing is still very strong and backed by sources which in itself holds a great deal of attention.

Though the story can get somewhat bogged down by some of the slow parts of the narrative, there is still enough exciting and suspenseful action to keep the reader interested. It is a quick read for what could be called an exciting thesis paper but being that it is such a quick read some might be interested in rereads to better handle the facts of the case. As a secondary source this book will be very useful to students as they begin to formulate their own ideas of the case. Typically this is a major topic in the eight grade in North Carolina and this book might prove useful for that grade level and certainly higher. For casual readers they will find a new mystery, rooted in history, that will read like a crime novel. Miller doesn’t really set out to solve the mystery of the Lost Colony but she does add some often ignored or forgotten information into the narrative with the hopes that one day maybe we will solve the mystery.

While the Lost Colony of Roanoke is quickly reaching the edges of academic scholarly history and beginning to enter the boundaries of pseudo-history there are still some very factual events that surround the history of these lost colonists and there tales that might still one day be told.

As for this book, Roanoke: Solving the Mystery of the Lost Colony by Lee Miller, I’d say 4.5 our 5 stars!

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