Grove Press
Atlantic Monthly Press
Atlantic Monthly Press

Finding Florida

by T.D. Allman

“A rich and lively history of Florida, minus the Disney gloss. . . . [Allman] shatters five centuries of mythmaking to tell the real story . . . A splendid rendering of the messy human story of our fourth-most populous state.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 576
  • Publication Date March 11, 2014
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2230-8
  • Dimensions 6" x 9"
  • US List Price $20.00
  • Imprint Atlantic Monthly Press
  • Page Count 544
  • Publication Date March 05, 2013
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2076-2
  • Dimensions 6" x 9"
  • US List Price $27.50

About The Book

Over the centuries, Florida has been many things: an unconquered realm protected by its geography, a wilderness that ruined Spain’s mightiest conquistadors, “god’s waiting room,” and a place to start over. Depopulated after the extermination of its native population, today it is home to nineteen million people. The site of vicious racial violence, it is now a diverse state—a dynamic, multicultural place with an essential role in twenty-first-century America.

However, the turbulent story of Florida has been distorted and whitewashed. In Finding Florida: The True History of the Sunshine State, journalist T. D. Allman reclaims this remarkable history from the mythologizers, apologists, and boosters. Allman traces the discovery, exploration, and settlement of Florida and its transformation from a swamp to “paradise.” Florida became a state in 1845; sixteen years later it would secede. Palm Beach, Key West, Miami, Tampa, and Orlando boomed, fortunes were won and lost, land was stolen and flipped, and millions arrived.

The product of a decade of research and writing, Finding Florida is a highly original, stylish, and masterful work. Shedding new light on the meaning of America, it’s the first modern comprehensive history of this fascinating place.


“Equal parts social analysis, historical review, and jeremiad, Finding Florida is a passionate, often scathing, and remarkably comprehensive encounter with a confounding, contradictory, and ever-elusive place. If your idea of hell is being chained to a galley oar between a politician and a Chamber of Commerce exec, then you are likely to love this book.” —Les Standiford, author of Last Train to Paradise

“A take-no-prisoners account . . . extremely timely and relevant.” —Alexandra Starr, The New York Times Book Review

“Allman’s engaging, eye-opening, and heavily researched history of Florida spans half a millennium, from the myth of Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth to the 2012 shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, and it is a fulsome cavalcade of would-be conquistadors, epically corrupt and racist politicians, and oligarch wannabes. . . . it’s all here, and even Carl Hiaasen couldn’t make it up. This is history for the intelligent generalist, and Allman writes with style, passion, and real outrage at Florida’s odious political history. Readers will be struck by his conclusion that much of America—as Florida has long done—is abandoning verifiable facts for beliefs that are often utter nonsense. But, hey, it was sunny and 80 degrees in Florida today.” —Thomas Gaughan, Booklist (starred review)

“A rich and lively history of Florida, minus the Disney gloss. . . . [Allman] shatters five centuries of mythmaking to tell the real story . . . A splendid rendering of the messy human story of our fourth-most populous state.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Gripping.” —Steve Yoder, Salon.com

“Wonderful . . . Allman brings the same skepticism in researching the state’s past as he did to covering the wars in Southeast Asia in the Sixties and Seventies.” —The Daily Beast

“Tangy [and] aphoristic … no one can read [this] book and ever again think of Florida as the blessed, sun-soaked paradise of resilient myth.” —Edward Kosner, The Wall Street Journal

“With stylish humor and pluck, the author bursts some of the more mystifying Florida myths. . . . If you are a Florida resident, full-time or part-time, or anyone curious about the state’s history and more, this book belongs on your shelf.” —Reporter, Deerfield BeachF, FL

“An extraordinary tome . . . Finding Florida offers a history lesson that is long overdue.” —The Birmingham Times

“For the general reader, Finding Florida is a catalyst for hearty discussions and more reading.” —Authentic Florida

“An immense and important work.” —Maud Newton, Bookforum

“A magisterial rip at the state’s invaders, conquerors and rulers.” —Mark I. Pinsky, Orlando Magazine

“[Allman] takes a machete to the many outlandish myths and fabrications that to this day often pass for reality in paradise. ” Despite his dead-serious themes and depth of scholarly investigation, Allman’s lively writing offers a rollicking good ride through five turbulent centuries in the Sunshine State, mapping its transformation from wilderness swamp to land speculator’s dream and what he rightly tags the populous, political giant now: ‘The pivot of America.’ That makes Finding Florida worthy reading for just about everyone.” —Annette Clifford, Charleston Post and Courier

“Reading this book shatters nearly every myth about Florida and leads to a better understanding of why the Sunshine State continues to grab headlines and affect national and even international politics.” —Kathy Hersh, New York Journal of Books

“[Finding Florida] at times reads like Michener on meth. What Hiaasen does in fiction, Allman documents.” —Mark I. Pinsky, Orlando Weekly

“I loved Allman’s extraordinary book. . . . Almost every county in Florida bears the name of a butcher, a slavedriver, a madman, a scoundrel or a thief, in a state where for half a millennium the governing mandate seems to be Defeat the Truth, Triumph over Reality. T.D. Allman’s counter-narrative to all the pretty lies is a scouring hurricane of research, investigation, and soul-cleansing wrath, and I doubt there has ever been a better, or more important, book written about the Sunshine State, the birthplace of imperial hubris, American-style.” —Bob Shacochis, author of The Immaculate Invasion

“[From] a raconteur of rare qualities . . . [one] of the fiercest and most prescient nonfiction books written about the Sunshine State in the past 40 years.” —Palm Beach Arts Paper

Finding Florida is a must-read for any Florida resident who is interested in the state’s history.” —EU Jacksonville Magazine

Finding Florida is fascinating, comprehensive, and accessible to the non-specialist reader. While Allman covers an enormous amount of material—taking Florida from uninhabited swampland to the sidewalk culture of South Beach—he does so in such engaging ways that the reader is never overwhelmed. Indeed, each chapter is in itself a satisfying and illuminating narrative, stock full of vivid characters. Somehow he has managed to pull together a compelling read without sacrificing historical substance, a feat to which many professional historians aspire. His wry voice conveys a point of view that gently pushes readers to understand Florida as an American synecdoche.” —Glenda Gilmore , Peter V. and C. Vann Woodward Professor of History, Yale University

“Manuscripts repeatedly find their way into print that ignore the reality of Florida’s past and, in so doing, skew our understanding of what Florida has been, what it is now, what it’s likely to become, and what that means for everyone. T. D. Allman’s book turns all that on its head. It directly challenges the existing historiography with highly intelligent insight and crafting of narrative in a way that permits the reader to immerse himself in a world far from the expected one. Finding Florida is provocative to the point of daring. Thomas Jefferson claimed a little revolution was needed about every twenty years. Florida and its historiography is long overdue for one.” —Canter Brown, Jr., Professor of History, Fort Valley State University


Longlisted for the National Book Award for Nonfiction
One of Kirkus Reviews Best Nonfiction Books of 2013
Longlisted for the 2014 SIBA Book Award for Nonfiction
2014 Florida Authors & Publishers Association President’s Awards Gold Medal


At the end of World War Two, Florida was a buggy, second-tier Cracker state with some local peculiarities. Today it is the pivot of America. Time and again America has watched—touched, amused, appalled, annoyed, but never able to look away—as hurricanes have lashed the state, rockets carrying human beings into space have exploded, and the seas surrounding Florida have yielded up sunken treasure, drowned Haitians, and gobs of sticky oil. Attracting even more attention are Florida’s perpetual human dramas. What will happen to little Elian? To Terry Schiavo and her comatose state? To that woman who let her little girl die? To Trayvon Martin’s killer? The nation stares at its TV screens as these telenovelas confront the basic dilemmas of all our lives—until another “breaking news” banner bursts on screen, and another melodrama begins.

Because the media treat Florida as a series of disconnected breaking news events, they miss what Henry James, who wrote illuminatingly about Florida, called the pattern in the carpet. Look for those underlying patterns: you’ll discover that what makes Florida important is not its quirkiness, its seeming otherness, or its unpredictability. It’s that Florida provides a true mirror of what America is becoming—what it already is, in fact.