By Kate Ward
Updated November 09, 2007 at 05:00 AM EST

Christopher Columbus may have garnered all the acclaim, but Cabeza de Vaca boasts one of the most dramatic (and seldom told) stories of New World exploration in the 1500s. The Spaniard was one of hundreds of Florida-bound settlers thrown off course by an incompetent pilot. Most died in the rough terrain along Texas’ coastline, but de Vaca and three others embarked on a decade-long trek across North America, enduring starvation and even enslavement by several native tribes. Except for a few dry pages about 16th-century Christianity, Andrés Reséndez’s story, A Land So Strange is so riveting you’ll wonder why so many history books ignore it. A-