Lauren's Reviews > Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before

Blue Latitudes by Tony Horwitz
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Jul 05, 08

bookshelves: world-history, travel
Read in August, 2003

I knew next to nothing about Captain James Cook when i picked up this book... history books generally gloss over his voyages, even though he explored an area that encompasses nearly 1/3 of the globe. Horwitz's urge to learn all he could about the man and his work is infectious... you can see this in the text rubbing off on those around him, as seen in Roger, his companion on many of his "Cook" travels.

Retracing Captain Cook's three voyages, relying heavily on the diaires of Cook himself, Horwitz decides to take a short trip to the Pacific Northwest to sail for 10 days in a replica of Cook's ship. He wanted a feel for the life or a seaman, and he sure gets it!! Next he sets off to Australia and New Zealand. His journalistic style brings in great aspects of history, anthropology, and language. He interviews Maori people in New Zealand and Aborigines in Australia, asking them what memories their people have of Cook and his men. Both groups remember Captain Cook, oftentimes in a negative light. It does not appear that they despise Cook as a man, but more of what he stood for, and what his exploration meant for the native culture.

Horwitz and Roger then begin to island hop around the Pacific. I particularly liked the time they spent on the island of Niue (like Horwitz, I had never heard of this island.) Describing the scene, Horwitz claims it may be the last part of Polynesia that is not spoiled by commercialism and tourists. He and Roger stay for a week on this small island (only 11 miles long!) and try to unravel the mystery of the hula hula (Cook's men were scared away from these islands by men with red teeth, and they named the island Savage Island because they thought the people were cannibals).

Roger and Horwitz go to Yorkshire, England, Cook's birthplace (and Roger's too), and take part in a few days of the Cook festival. They meet Cliff, the young president of the Captain Cook society, and try to find out as much as they can about the enigmatic Cook. Going to Cook's own home gives Horwitz a different take on the man, and he learns more about Cook's beliefs and his philosophies.

Their travels end in Hawaii, like Cook's did in 1778. They commemorate Cook on the beach where he was killed.

The other aspect of this book that fascinated me was how Horwitz tried to get "into Cook's head". Cook was a son of the Enlightenment, and did not come to Polynesia with preconceived notions of God, Gold, and Glory like earlier explorers. He wanted to discover and learn about others, and was very scientifically conscious for a man of his time.
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message 1: by Jim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jim Great review! I really enjoyed this one too, and you captured the total-immersion approach that Horwitz took. You really took me back into this excellent book!


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