Marty's Reviews > Voyages of Captain Cook

Voyages of Captain Cook by James Cook
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Feb 06, 08

bookshelves: attic-bookshelf
Read in January, 2007

I like sailing. I'm fascinated with explorers. I relish accounts of two entirely different cultures meeting. For these reasons The Voyages of Captain Cook seemed to me as if it would be the absolute paramount of my insatiable reading desires. For the first time in my life I was wrong (wait, maybe it was the second, if I'm wrong on this count it will be he third). The Voyages of Captain Cook was what I would like to call, in the old fashioned sense: boring. By the time I was halfway through, completing each page was a tortuous, painstaking effort.

I'm not sure when this account was compiled, but it must have been not too long after the famed adventurer's successes because the editor could hardly contain his occasionally smarmy, and unstintingly patriotic voice from commenting here or there on Cook's accomplishments. The book follows the three voyages of Captain Cook. In my humble opinion (often mistaken as a pompous opinion), the book was two voyages too long. The beginning talks about Cook's early career, which was readable enough, especially knowing that it would lead to his glittering career as an explorer. Then he goes on his first voyage. The first place of substance he stops at is a tropical island ... somewhere in the Pacific (the maps accompanying the book were not very helpful with connecting the events of the book with the names on the maps). The Captain's endeavors on this island were vaguely interesting, and seemingly identical to what happens for the rest of the book. Each successive island after that first one is just another tropical island with various native tribes who each end up being either somewhat hostile or nice, or trade with Cook or don't, or give Cook and crew pigs to eat or do dances for them. There is nothing to distinguish any of the islands or the cultures from each other. Copy that and then paste it for the next voyage and for three fourths of the last voyage, and you have The Voyages of Captain Cook.

It took me forever to read the book, but as I had bought it, started it, lost it, and then bought it again, I was determined not to let this one go. Besides, I knew that Cook got killed at the end, and I just had to know how this guy met his end. Well, I wouldn't claim that the end was worth it, but the last hundred pages were more of what I was hoping for. Cook ends up going along the American coast looking for a northwest passage and ends up running into Alaska before retreating back to the Sandwich (Hawaiian) Islands to wait for the next summer to come before making another attempt. Finally, a change in atmosphere, some excitement of avoiding icebergs, the initial exploration of the Berring Strait, storms--all of these instead of the head-poundingly boring and monotonous cruise of tropical islands where the most exciting thing was how much tendency the local natives had of pilfering. Then, once Cook gets to the Hawaiian Islands, we see the fascinating evolution of how things with the natives escalate until the death of Cook himself. On top of that, we are treated to a fresh attempt at the Berring Strait the next summer, this time including some run-ins with Russians. Sigh. The book could have been so much shorter, more interesting, and satisfying with a heck of a lot of editing, but alas, I'm certain poor Ernest Rhys felt that would have been a disservice to his country and his idol James Cook.
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