Captain James Cook's three epic 18th-century explorations of the Pacific Ocean were the last of their kind, literally completing the map of the world. Yet despite his monumental discoveries, principally in the South Pacific, Cook the man has remained an enigma. In retracing key legs of the circumnavigator's journey, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Tony Horwitz chronicles the cultural and environmental havoc wrought by the captain's opening of the unspoiled Pacific to the West, as well as the alternately indifferent and passionate reactions Cook's name evokes during the writer's journeys through Polynesia, Australia, the Aleutians, and the explorer's native England. Horwitz skillfully weaves a biography and travel narrative with warm humor that is natural and human-scale, and his restless inquisitiveness quickly infects the reader. While striking dichotomies abound throughout that journey--Maori toughs who adopt Nazi imagery to symbolize their own fight against white domination, millennia-old Polynesian sexual mores that would shame the Reeperbahn, a sense that Christianity decimated native cultures at least as effectively as Western venereal diseases did--few are more poignant than the ones that abound in Cook's own life. This fine work is an adventurous reminder that answers to historical riddles are elusive at best--and seldom as compelling as the myriad new questions they pose. --Jerry McCulley
In an entertaining, informative look at the life and travels of Capt. James Cook, Horwitz (Confederates in the Attic; Baghdad Without a Map) combines a sharp eye for reporting with subtle wit and a wonderful knack for drawing out the many characters he discovers. The book is both a biography of Cook, the renowned 18th-century British explorer who's widely considered one of the greatest navigators in maritime history, and a travel narrative. On one level, Horwitz recounts Cook's rise from poverty in a large family in rural England to an improbable and dazzling naval career that brought him worldwide fame. On another, he tells his own story of following in Cook's wake, visiting his far-flung destinations (with the exception of Antarctica) and investigating his legacy. It is satisfying in both regards, Horwitz skillfully pacing the book by intertwining his own often quite funny adventures with tales of Cook and his men. Despite the historical focus, Horwitz doesn't stray too far from the encounters with everyday people that gave his previous books such zest. His travels bring him face-to-face with a violent, boozing gang of Maori New Zealanders called the Mongrel Mob, who are violently critical of Cook, arguing that "Cook and his mob, they put us in this position," Moari activists "wondering at those who would honour the scurvy, the pox, the filth and the racism" that they feel he brought to their island, and the King of Tonga, who couldn't seem to care less about what the explorer meant to his domain. With healthy doses of both humor and provocative information, the book will please fans of history, exploration, travelogues and, of course, top-notch storytelling.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Captain James Cook was the first true agent of globalization; his three inconceivably long and arduous voyages of exploration filled in vast blank spaces on the map and opened unseen lands to Western trade, missionizing, conquest, and genocide. According to Horwitz, "Cook, in sum, pioneered the voyage we are still on, for good and ill." Journeying to key Cook sites, Horwitz retells the sailor's story and tries to re-create first contact from the point of view of the locals--Tahitians, Maoris, Aleuts, Hawaiians, and others--and judge the legacy of his landing. While admitting that Cook's arrival often proved disastrous to indigenous peoples, he also finds that in some places the navigator's amazing achievements have been downplayed for the sake of political correctness. Above all, though, Horwitz is fascinated by the character of Cook and the conditions of the times (he notes that a 40 percent casualty rate wasn't extraordinary for sailing vessels of the day), and as he searches for clues to these, his obsession becomes contagious. Abetted by his friend Roger Williamson, who also provides salty comic relief, Horwitz crisscrosses the Pacific, taking us back and forth in time while ably balancing the many elements of his tale. This thought-provoking travelogue brims with insight and will appeal to anyone who yearns for the days when there was something left to discover--while making them wonder if, really, we should have just stayed home. Keir Graff
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Tony Horwitz is the bestselling author of Midnight Rising, A Voyage Long and Strange, Blue Latitudes, Confederates in the Attic, and Baghdad Without a Map. He is also a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who has worked for The Wall Street Journal and The New Yorker. He lives in Martha's Vineyard with his wife, Geraldine Brooks, and their two sons.