August 1590, John White...found Roanoke deserted and its makeshift houses dismantled. The only clues were letters carved into a tree 'CRO' and a post with an inscription in capital letters 'CROATOAN'. Missing was the emblem of a cross, 'a secret token' that the colonists had earlier agreed to leave, if necessary, as a sign of distress ... The Secret Token spanning more than 400 years, offers the most authoritative account of the Lost Colony to date, if not the last word.
...focuses not just on the very sturdy evergreen mystery the lost colony of Roanoke (which, as he points out, historians and archeologists have for years been patiently pointing out was not actually 'lost') but also on the origin and growth of the legend itself. ... The story was once a familiar part of any elementary-school American history education: in 1587, the Roanoke colony was found deserted – even the houses and barricades were gone. The only clue was the 'secret token' of Lawler's title, carved into a tree at the settlement site ... Of course The Secret Token won't stop or even stall the outlandish speculation about Roanoke's fate (space aliens have, inevitably, been dragged into the whole thing many times), but readers who prefer the facts need look no further.
Andrew Lawler warns in his new book, The Secret Token: Myth, Obsession, and the Search for the Lost Colony of Roanoke, that Lost Colony fever is a kind of madness. Happily, that doesn’t stop him from plunging into the wild terrain of theories ... Lawler manages to do this in a clear-eyed way, conscious of whether he, too, is getting lost ... Lawler has a polished, pop-history writing style — informative without seeming dense, entertaining but not pandering ... One of the strengths of the first section of the book is its depiction of the civilizations that had already been clashing for generations ... Lawler also does a good job conveying the strangeness of one of the central figures of the Lost Colony mystery: the wayward governor, John White ... Lawler falls into the habit of ending chapters with suggestive cliffhangers. It works, for a while, but gets distracting ... the themes of mingled races, of cultures clashing to create something new, are surprisingly fresh and powerful.