Commonly regarded as the greatest sea explorer of all time, James Cook made his three world-changing voyages during the 1770s, at a time when ships were routinely lost around the English coast. He made history by making geography-- sailing through previously unknown southern seas, charting the eastern Australian coast and circumnavigating New Zealand, putting many Pacific islands on the map, and exploring both the Arctic and Antarctic. His men suffered near shipwreck, were ravaged by tropical diseases, and survived frozen oceans; his lieutenants-- including George Vancouver and William Bligh-- became celebrated captains in their own right. Exploits among native peoples combined to make Cook a celebrity and a legend.
Cook is not, however, viewed by all as a heroic figure. Some Hawaiians demonize him as a syphilitic rascist who had a catastrophic effect on local health. Indigenous Australians often see him as the violent dispossessor of their lands. Nicholas Thomas explores Cook's contradictory character as never before, by reconstructing the many sides of encounters that were curious and unusual for Europeans and natives alike. The result of twenty years' research, Thomas's magnificently rich portrait overturns the familiar images of Cook and reveals the fascinating and far more ambiguous figure beneath.
Rich, vivid and deeply provocative, Thomas's work combines premiere adventure story with thorough history and intensive sociology. The University of London anthropology professor explains Cook's drive to find "the lands South" (in the 18th century, most presumed there was another continent at the south end of the world). Cook (1728-1779) made three harrowing trips in the 1770s in which he discovered Antarctica. In those travels, he explored worlds previously unknown to Europeans: the Pacific and its panoply of island nations. Cook first charted Australia, New Zealand and the entire southern hemisphere, and this aspect of his career is the book's most fascinating portion. Thomas explains that Cook was most interested in charting territories previously unheard of by Europeans; he was, like Lewis and Clark, at heart a geographer and cartographer. However, Cook didn't discover just longitude and latitude; he found whole new peoples. The results of explorations by Cook and his crews (which included an artist and diarist) informed European society of native cultures. How the elevation of some groups and devaluation of others evolved would, Thomas explains, influence centuries of perception about nonwhite, non-European societies and redefine words like "primitive," "savage" and "conqueror." Thomas diligently contextualizes Cook, who appears both heroic and demonic as he finds worlds where people had lived in thriving societies since the dawn of time and where his crews wreak havoc (e.g., bringing venereal disease) even as they attempt to "civilize" those they meet. Thomas displays sure, careful research and thoughtful interpretations, with a style matching the adventures detailed. He spent two decades on this work, and it shows. 8 color, 50 b&w illus.; 7 maps.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Drawing on 20 years of research, Thomas recounts Captain James Cook's original three voyages in the 1770s. Thomas writes that his aim is^B to capture the sense of a particular time, and his starting point is not Cook's ancestry or birth but his consciousness of himself at the age of about 39. Thomas divides the book geographically into what he labels "England's Atlantic," "To the South Sea," "Towards the South Pole," and "To the North Pacific." Thomas writes much about Cook's anthropological and scientific research, describing various ethnic groups, their customs, and their religious concepts. In one of Cook's letters describing Tahiti, he writes, "A virgin is to be purchased here, with the unanimous consent of the parents, for three nails and a knife." Thomas also writes of the flora and fauna in^B the places that Cook visited and of the horrendous weather he encountered at sea. With 54 illustrations and nine maps, this is an exceptionally researched work, one of the most detailed and insightful accounts of Cook's voyages. George Cohen
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Nicholas Thomas is a professor of anthropology at the University of London. A native of Sydney, Australia, he has traveled extensively in the course of his Pacific research and has curated several exhibitions on the history, art, and culture of Oceania.