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Sea People: In Search of the Ancient Navigators of the Pacific

4.19  ·  Rating details ·  969 ratings  ·  170 reviews

‘Wonderfully researched and beautifully written’ Philip Hoare, author of Leviathan

‘Succeeds in conjuring a lost world’ Dava Sobel, author ofLongitude

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

Kindle Edition, 376 pages
Published March 12th 2019 by William Collins
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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
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.
Clif Hostetler
Jun 28, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...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
Diane S ☔
Aug 14, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lor-2019
Thoughts soon.
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
Elizabeth A.G.
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 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
Katie/Doing Dewey
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
Peter 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 ...more
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
Sep 30, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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
Rex Fuller
Jun 04, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Julian Walker
Apr 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
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
Seth Turner
Feb 17, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019, 2019-nonfiction
Very interesting!
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
May 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
I hoped this book would be an insight into the lives of Polynesia, their culture and history. I have read Guns, Germs and Steel and was keen to find out more. I have come away a little disappointed - if I'd paid a bit more careful attention to the subtitle - this book is really about the "search" for these people.

For example, it has a chapter on the sequencing of rat DNA and how that helps us to understand how different islands were populated and also rather than recounting the creation myths
Porter Broyles
Sep 06, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: genre-asia
This was a fascinating book. This book is about the Puzzle of Polynesia---or more specifically, about how the people of Polynesia covered essentially every inhabitable island in the Pacific---an area larger than Asia!

The book centers around what “we” (non-Polynesian culture) knows and understands about Polynesia. It starts talking about Captain Cook and his initial discovery of Hawaii. It follows-up with his subsequent voyages wherein he discovers that the people all over the Pacific are somehow
A cool book to trip over absolutely by accident. This one came to me because my daughter spotted on someone else's hold shelf at the library. It's written in kind of an obvious and predictable way, which for me isn't really a negative. It is the story of the settlement of Polynesia but it is also a history of anthropology. So we start with the discoveries by Europeans. And then advance to the study of the oral traditions of the Polynesians. And then measurement of populations. And then ...more
Apr 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Nihilistic Librarian
This book absolutely blew me away. Aside from the beautiful historical narrative, it fundamentally changed the way I see the world. I come from a written history culture and Thompson was able to provide a lens to peer through into an oral history culture. From small examples like Europeans giving directions by reading maps with the presumption that the top will always be north, while a Polynesian person gives directions from the literal point they are facing; to huge concepts like history and ...more
Laura Trombley
Mar 18, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sea People is a wonderful little book about how and when the Polynesians ended up in Polynesia. Beginning with the moments when Europeans first discovered unknown inhabited islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean going forward through all of the documentation and then science used to answer these questions. I cannot even imagine getting into a outrigger canoe and traveling to some unknown island that may or may not be there. It was fascinating.
Kathy Stone
Feb 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads
I won this book from a First Reads giveaway here on Goodreads.
This is the History of what we have learned about Polynesia and how we learned it. Christina Thompson is married to a New Zealand Maori and she wished to know more of his culture and the people that populate the Polynesian Triangle. The book uses every branch of the social studies starting with history and goes into ethnology, anthropology, linguistics and archaeology. Mythology also places a large part of the story. She than
Apr 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was such a wonderful book! I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Susan Lyons, who did a great job. I do wish that the narrator had been a Polynesian person, but that's my only complaint, really.

The writing is evocative and lush--at times the book reads almost like a novel. It incorporates Polynesian legends and myths with accounts from European explorers. I especially loved the last part, which details the resurgence and reclamation of traditional sailing and navigating by the
Nick Edkins
Aug 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What this book does best is convey how incredible an achievement the settlement of Polynesia was. Untangling the timeline and methods was an intellectual puzzle that Thompson relates with the taut pacing of a mystery novel. With each unexplained piece of evidence, the instinct of many investigators seems to have been to doubt or diminish the skill of the Polynesian navigators; at times, they appear to have been looking for any other explanation, regardless of plausibility. Thompson shows how ...more
Becky Diamond
Jan 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Piecing together a vast number of elements including history, science, mysticism, folklore, archeology and ancient genealogies, Thompson creates a mesmerizing account of the Polynesian puzzle. A revelatory summary of this vast area steeped in culture and tradition. Highly recommend.
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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
“You need to define your community,” he told them, “and community is never about what separates you from each other—your race or your culture—it’s about what binds you together.” 0 likes
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