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

Blue Latitudes by Tony Horwitz
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's review
Jul 27, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: book-club-read, non-fiction

Tony Horwitz begins this book as he serves for a week on a replica of Captain James Cook's ship, Endeavor. There he learns many of challenges such a ship brought with it in the 1700s when sailing into nearly totally uncharted areas. Most of the rest of his journey of visiting and examining the places Cook discovered are taken by airplane, with the exception of Alaska, which he again goes by boat (in that case, a ferry). Throughout he quotes from the journals of Cook, his men, and Cook scholars, giving the reader a real feel for the times and Cook himself. He also traces down and speaks to many, many people who gave their views of Cook: those who wish to bring him into historical focus, those who wish him forgotten, those who wish him vilified, and those who try to preserve his name.

Cook was the son of a laborer, and should have expected the same for his life. However, his father's employer, a landed gentlemen, recognized his intelligence and had him educated for a few years. There he excelled in mathematics. After working for a short while with a merchant, he began working from the bottom up on ships, eventually enlisting in the Navy, again at the bottom, and quickly working his way up the ladder, leading to him piloting his own ship intent on discovering new lands. In his 18th century voyages of discovery Cook plied both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, mostly the Pacific, charting islands and discovering many new one, including Hawaii.

I learned an immense amount about Cook's brilliance, foresight, and great courage and about his discoveries and how those places have been changed in the centuries since.

Horwitz talks Roger, a friend of his from Australia, into accompanying him on many of his trips. Roger has a wonderful wry wit and his comments often made me laugh out loud. Cook was a much more important discoverer than I knew and I appreciate that this book enlightened me in such an entertaining way.

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