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Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia

4.21  ·  Rating details ·  2,458 ratings  ·  417 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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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
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
Judith E
Mar 28, 2021 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
If I’m ever a Jeopardy contestant and there’s a Polynesia category, I will totally kick ass. Did you know the islanders of Marquesas SEWED their wood canoes together with coconut fibers? Or that Captain Cook was a math and astronomy geek? Or this basic navigational tidbit - the winds in the North Pacific run from north to east and winds in the South Pacific run from south to east?

This scholarly author expertly portrays the early European discoveries of the Polynesian islands and people, the simi
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.
Barbara K
This one shoots straight to my "Best of 2020" list without a second thought. What a great book!

It was already on my TBR when I read The Year 1000: When Explorers Connected the World—and Globalization Began, which includes a description of the seafaring techniques of Polynesians. I was so intrigued by that information that I immediately moved Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia into position as next-to-read.

And I was rewarded for doing so. Did I mention that this is a terrific book? Since there i
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
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
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
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. ...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
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
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
Growing up in rural/coastal New Zealand and being immersed in Maori culture from the age of 5-12, the myths, legends, stories, cultural practices have always resonated with me, perhaps because I was so young, or because there was a clear connection to the landscape and environment that rang true, the geography of New Zealand was part of the mythology, that curious blend of enchantment and reality.

I read Sea People not so much out of that European curiosity to discover where people originated fro
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
Missy J
Jan 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
3.5* rounded up to 4 because I like the subject matter.

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 throug
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
Russell Atkinson
Oct 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This non-fiction history of Pacific Islanders and how we learned what we know about them is written with surprising elegance. It is also fascinating reading. I consider myself very well-read and with enough years on me that very little I read provides me with a real learning experience. It's generally stuff I mostly know or have heard enough references to that it doesn't surprise me when I read something getting into detail. This book is an exception. In short, I learned a great deal from this b ...more
Sea People [2019] by Christina Thompson - ★★★★

"It is extraordinary...that the same Nation should have spread themselves over all the isles in this Vast Ocean...which is almost a fourth part of the circumference of the Globe" [Captain James Cook quoted by Thompson, 2019: 103].

This interesting book traces the origin of first Polynesian settlers and discusses many theories as who these people were and how they could have colonised some of the most inaccessible islands on the planet without using me
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.
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
Dec 31, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed reading this book about the history of human settlement of the Polynesian Triangle. The book focuses in particular on the history of how knowledge was built about who Polynesians are, where they come from and how they discovered and settled the Polynesian islands. So it offers a combination of Polynesian history and the history of science, which I greatly enjoyed. It was fascinating to read about the different theories that were developed over time about how Polynesians came to ...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.
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
Fred Forbes
Sep 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
5:21 on 5/21 a few years ago. Interesting coincidence, thinks I, as for the first time I see land sink from the horizon as I pilot a 40' sailboat across the Gulf Stream from Ft. Lauderdale to Bimini. I am surrounded by nothing but ocean, a thrilling but intimidating circumstance. I am on a program to become licensed for bare boat chartering. I have laid the course out on the chart, carefully allowing for the northward drift of the stream and marking progress with dividers, a process known as "de ...more
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
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
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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 contact in Aotearoa/New Zealand and a memoir of 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. It won the 2020 Australian Prime Minister’s Literary Awa ...more

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“All the islands inside this triangle were originally settled by a clearly identifiable group of voyagers: a people with a single language and set of customs, a particular body of myths, a distinctive arsenal of tools and skills, and a “portmanteau biota” of plants and animals that they carried with them wherever they went. They had no knowledge of writing or metal tools—no maps or compasses—and yet they succeeded in colonizing the largest ocean on the planet, occupying every habitable rock between New Guinea and the Galápagos, and establishing what was, until the modern era, the largest single culture area in the world.” 1 likes
“They were polytheistic, and the name for their most securely reconstructible deity relates to the word for “sky.” Their word for human, on the other hand, was derived from their word for “earth” or “land.” Their poetry revolved around themes of fertility, reciprocity, immortality, and heroic deeds; a single famous phrase, best known to us from the Homeric epics, is glossed as “imperishable fame.” 0 likes
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