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Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia

4.22  ·  Rating details ·  1,539 ratings  ·  267 reviews
A blend of Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel and Simon Winchester’s Pacific, a thrilling intellectual detective story that looks deep into the past to uncover who first settled the islands of the remote Pacific, where they came from, how they got there, and how we know.

For more than a millennium, Polynesians have occupied the remotest islands in the Pacific Ocean, a
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published March 12th 2019 by Harper
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 ·  1,539 ratings  ·  267 reviews

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The book is impressive. I rarely give non-biographical non-fiction books five stars; here I was tempted. Why?

The book is cleverly set up. The information is presented chronologically, starting with the discovery of the islands by Europeans in the late 1500s. Revealing bit by bit what has been discovered makes the reader intrigued to know more. You want to understand who the island inhabitants are, where they came from and how they came to be there. With this historical perspective, the reader vi
Jun 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites-2020
I discuss this book in my video covering round 2 of the 2020 Booktube Prize here: ...more
Apr 15, 2019 added it
Shelves: polynesia
It's been a traveling year for me in books. I intentionally went first to Trieste and stayed there, for a while, longer than I planned. Oddly, it was logical to go from there directly to Wales. And I book a flight for Nowa Ruda whenever Olga calls.

Still in a traveling mood, I boarded a ship, but a creaky one, with only hardtack, mealy biscuits and stale water for dinner. We followed the currents and trade winds, going east first before we turned west. The worst was when we were becalmed. Eventua
Clif Hostetler
Jun 28, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
When early European explorers — Captain Cook in particular — encountered the Polynesian peoples living on isolated islands in the Pacific Ocean separated by thousands of miles, the logical question that came to their minds was, “How did these people get here? And where did they come from?” The Europeans were quite confident of themselves as being the best navigator/sailors in the world. The fact the Polynesians had found the islands many generations before the Europeans would normally be conside ...more
Donna Davis
Christina Thompson is the author of Come On Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All, which I read and loved. I was thrilled when I saw that she was about to publish another book, and even more so when I found a review copy; thanks go to Edelweiss and Harper Collins. This book is for sale now.

For centuries, Western scholars have tried to tease apart the many unknown aspects of Polynesian history. The islands are spread across an area of the Pacific Ocean (and beyond) so large that all of the Eart
Diane S ☔
Aug 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: lor-2019
Thoughts soon.
Apr 07, 2019 rated it liked it
Was entertained while learning for about 100 pages. But after Captain Cook's explorations, when the whalers and missionaries arrived, I started losing interest. Did appreciate her words about the Lapita
Historically, perhaps my favorite contemporary topic for exploration, Sapiens earliest watercraft ...

Thompson writes:
" ... because some portion of the population was always 'away,' hunting turtles or collecting birds' eggs or gathering coconuts or vis
Camelia Rose
Feb 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, audio
This book sets out to answer the questions of where Polynesian came from and when. I, who was unclear of the difference between Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia, emerged from the book having learned a few things about Polynesia. So, the current orthodox view of Polynesian migration is that the Polynesian ancestors did come from Taiwan and Philippines. There were two waves of migrations, the first at 1000 BC, the second from 1000 AD. DNA tests also suggest Polynesian and Melanesian share male ...more
Robert Sheard
Apr 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is a terrific account, not just of what we have come to know about the origins of the Polynesian people, but also of how we've come to know what we know. Thorough in its research, but completely readable for a layman like me, this is a great general nonfiction work and I can see why it's getting good reviews and notices online. When and if we're ever able to travel again, Tahiti, Hawaii, New Zealand, and Easter Island just went to the top of my list.
Elizabeth A.G.
Aug 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a well researched and engagingly written narrative of the origins of the Pacific Ocean island peoples of Polynesia, their exploratory navigations and settlement of the islands, the European "discoverers" of the islands in the 16th century and later, and the attempts to learn from where the original settlers came, why they ventured into the vast seas, and how they did so. Thompson describes the attempts of sailors, geographers, linguists, archeologists, and anthropologists to unravel the ...more
This was an interesting read, but it did get a little sleepy from time to time. The search for the one bright origin story quickly melted in to a soup from a variety of independently launched origins, all interesting enough on their own.

Best of all was the process the author used as she looked carefully at all her resources. . . .she didn't seem to be biased one way or the other and was open to more than one theory or truth.

My most surprising takeaway from this book was my personal grief for the
This is the first International Book of the Month picked by the members of the Non Fiction Book Club at Goodreads. I nominated it and could not be happier. What a wonderful book.

Just in case you have not noticed, I love everything about the deep blue sea. I am ceaselessly in awe of the force of the oceans and even more of the people who have conquered them, the true sailors and explorers. Coming from a country that is also the biggest archipelago in world, I am drawn to the Polynesians. The boo
Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin
Starts with the European encounter with the peoples of Polynesia as they made early forays and later more systematic exploration and conquest of an Ocean that takes up nearly half globe with islands dotting its huge expanse. As the Europeans encountered people who had braved the Pacific before them questions were raised at how the peoples of Polynesia pulled it off as pre-state, pre-literate peoples. The first guess was they randomly drifted onto the islands but once Europeans put aside their e ...more
The structure of this book worked really well in telling the story of how the world tried to determine where the people of Polynesia came from. It contains all the various efforts from the time the Western world slithered across these beautiful peaceful islands and how difficult the process has been and continues to be. There are an interesting section on how Europeans tried to understand what the Polynesians were saying and many times the linguistic complexities were never truly known.

The book
Katie/Doing Dewey
Mar 27, 2019 rated it liked it
Summary: A mostly entertaining look at how our theories about unrecorded history evolve, with a few slow bits.

"For more than a millennium, Polynesians have occupied the remotest islands in the Pacific Ocean, a vast triangle stretching from Hawaii to New Zealand to Easter Island. Until the arrival of European explorers they were the only people to have ever lived there. Both the most closely related and the most widely dispersed people in the world before the era of mass migration, Polynesians ca
Clare O'Beara
This exploration of explorations of an exploring people is full of fascinations, friendships and frightening distances. Also birds - as guides, as food, as giants made extinct.

The author tells us she is married to a Polynesian gentleman who is one of a people who inhabit remote islands across the Pacific, which today are in a nine hours' flight on a side, triangle.

To explore a people who didn't have a written history, and lost much oral history when diseases struck, is to give an account of how
Feb 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, science
Some thirteen or fourteen years ago, I had the opportunity to take a vacation in Hawai'i with my family. We obviously hit up the usual tourist spots, and I really found Hawai'i to be really enjoyable. The beach, obviously, was good. The food as well, because there were lots of Asian food options on the island. But, one really memorable moment was when we went to visit the Polynesian Cultural Center, where we got to see traditional hula dance, ate many good foods at a luau, and visited the variou ...more
Sep 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
The grumpus23 (23-word commentary)
Where did these people come from? What does history tell us? What does science and DNA tell us? Mystery solved? No spoilers here.
Missy J
Jan 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
When I saw the title of this book, I knew that I had to immediately read this book. On the surface, one thinks it's about the history of Polynesian people and how they came to populate the many islands of the vast Pacific ocean. However, having read this book, it's actually about the journey of HOW humans (mostly explorers and academics) questioned, researched and studied where the Polynesian people came from, when and how they sailed through the Pacific ocean to populate the "Polynesian Triangl ...more
Apr 01, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Such an interesting and carefully written history of the peopling of the Pacific, from its earliest arrivals to the modern period of explorers, adventurers and anthropologists.
Apr 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a library loan, so I must mark as "read" having read through the book once, but it is a book so full of interesting history, theories and expeditions in addition to the recounting of people who sacrificed a great deal to find truth that it could serve as reference book to repeatedly turn to and cite.
There was so much new information for me I could not possibly summarize key points in this small space. Yes, I learned some of this information long ago, but Thompson expertly gathers and ta
Rex Fuller
Jun 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
Picture a gigantic triangle from New Zealand to Hawaii to Easter Island. That's Polynesia. Up until recently, the people of Polynesia were the most closely related and the most widely dispersed people on earth. Until Europeans came, Polynesians were the only people to have lived there.

Now think about this: they didn't use metal tools or written language. How in God's name did they get there?

Suffice to say that has been the question ever since Europeans showed up. This book guides us on the fasc
Jan 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I finished Sea People, a 330 page tome on Polynesia, and I instantly conducted several searches on Google—"discovery of Hawai'i" and "flights to the Marquesas" and "extinction of the Moa in New Zealand"—because I wanted more more more. I could read hundreds more pages on the Polynesian explorers, who embarked on journeys of thousands of miles in an ocean of nothingness, nothing but the stars and the birds and the waves to guide them to lands unknown. Christina Thompson makes several excellent an ...more
I love a non-fiction book that combines both the study of History and Science along with fantastic stories of discovery and different cultural ways of thinking. Place that in the Pacific Ocean, where I've seem to gravitate, sailing and navigation and I'm completely entranced. This is an enthralling read and had me stopping to muse over many a chapter.
I think many of my kiwi extended family will be interested in this one too.
It was interesting to read it as a e-book from the local library but i
Mar 12, 2019 rated it liked it
See my review below from the March issue of Baltimore Style.

Humans have had wanderlust for as long as they’ve been in existence. Christina Thompson’s
Sea People : the Puzzle of Polynesia uses a variety of sciences to determine the who, what,
when, where and why the South Pacific became inhabited. Much of what we thought we knew
was seen through the eyes and culture of 16th century European explorers and turned out to be
flat-out wrong. Using linguistics, cartography, archaeology, anthropology and g
Julian Walker
Apr 15, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was enthralled learning about Captain Cook in my school days, and later on by reading about Thor Heyerdahl's Kon Tiki expedition - but this book is a further revelation.

Minutely researched, it covers the origins, learnings, languages and skills of a people whose lands are divided yet connected by vast tracts of open ocean - which in fact make up a more meaningful part of their world.

The author manages to create a highly readable and fascinating story, from both a personal and an historic pers
Seth Turner
Feb 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
Fascinating ethnographic look into the migration puzzle of the Polynesian peoples. Clearly a passion project that starts to unpack the puzzle presented in the book. Highly recommend it for anthropologists, historians, and related fields of interest.
Jessica Howard
Feb 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019, 2019-nonfiction
Very interesting!
Aug 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
Starts with the European discovery and expeditions to the lovely islands of the Pacific within the Polynesian Triangle as well as anthropological and historical research into the origins of the Polynesia people from Fiji and Tahiti to Hawaii and Rapa Nui and even New Zealand. The reader certainly has a great deal of information to get through and the author has the story move chronologically from Magellan to today.

The author did touch on the contamination from Europe society as well as the conve
May 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Katie by: Donna Davis
This exploration of the history of the Polynesian people was fascinating. I received an advanced review copy of the book from Edelweiss but waited to read it until I was on vacation on the island of Kauai in Hawaii last week. Being on one of the triangles of Polynesia added an extra dimension to my appreciation of the book. The book Sea People itself reminded me of a journey like the seafaring journeys the Polynesian people took between the islands. Each chapter and section approached the topic ...more
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Christina Thompson writes about the history of the Pacific. Her first book, Come on Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All, was at once a history of 18th- and 19th-century New Zealand and a memoir of her her marriage to a Maori man. Her second book, Sea People, is a history of the settlement of remote Oceania by the ancestors of the Polynesian people. A dual citizen of the US and Australia, she is ...more

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