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Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before (edition 2003)

by Tony Horwitz

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1,233306,447 (3.91)109
Member:MrBadcrumble
Title:Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before
Authors:Tony Horwitz
Info:Picador (2003), Edition: Later printing, Paperback, 496 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:*****
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Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before by Tony Horwitz

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At time humorous, at times snarky, at times unbearably saddening. Horowitz's typical blend of travelogue with history, he muses of the effect and result of Captain Cook and the results of mixing colonial Europeans powers with the native lifestyle. It is similar to the re-writing of Columbus as the bringer of evil to an otherwise peaceful and good people, but without the harshness of an extreme position. Well written and a quick read that makes you consider the consequences of actions and the ongoing effects that 250 year old events have on people still today. ( )
  cyclops1771 | Nov 11, 2014 |
Reading about the three voyages undertaken by Captain James Cook in the late 18th century leaves one with mixed emotions. On the one hand, as Horwitz points out, Cook "named more of the world than any navigator in history" and his "achievements contributed, in no small way, to London's becoming the headquarters of an empire that would ultimately span eleven thousand miles of the globe and rule over 400 million subjects." But on the other hand, in the wake of Cook, massive destruction of Polynesian cultures across the South Pacific was the far-reaching legacy. The western view was that Cook "discovered" storied places from Tahiti to Tonga, but from the Polynesian point of view, they had been there the whole time and the notion of discovery as applied to them is viewed with contempt.

This is the current state of affairs as explained by Tony Horwitz, who not only read about and thoroughly researched the subject of Cook's voyages, which were undertaken between 1768 and 1799, but made an attempt to visit many of the places that were significant in his travels. By interviewing local residents and dignitaries, Horwitz deepened his own understanding of how the Cook voyages could leave such widely divergent reactions. Cook remains a hero in Britain, but is reviled throughout Polynesia, and even 18th century Americans took a dim view of his legacy. Of course, this was at a time when America was trying to throw off the shackles of British rule and so their viewpoint was highly prejudiced. But then they turned around and added to the burdens suffered throughout the Pacific by the influx of well-meaning missionaries who did great damage to local culture in their efforts to introduce Christianity and stamp out any vestiges of indigenous religion.

So exploration and discovery have acquired a bad name, which is a shame because western civilization was greatly benefited by the people who had the courage to go into what was for them the unknown. There are no easy answers to the philosophical questions raised in this context. Unintended consequences are seldom anticipated and certainly it was not Cook's intention to inflict harm. He is blamed for much that he actually tried to prevent once it became apparent to him that the mingling of his crews with local populations was inflicting harm.

Be all this as it may, Horwitz has produced a tremendously interesting account, mingling the story of Cook, the man and leader, with his own present day investigations. From conversations with drugged-up hippies at one extreme to the King of Tonga at the other, and many colorful personalities in between, Horwitz manages to give us a feel for the situation on the ground throughout Polynesia, New Zealand, the east coast of Australia and the Aleutian Islands of Alaska — both now and at the time of Cook's visits.

The consensus of opinion is that Cook himself was a good man. His leadership was exemplary. His first two voyages were enough to put him in the record books. During his third voyage, however, something in him was deteriorating and his judgment seemed to suffer as time went by. By the time of their return to Hawaii from the Arctic, his irascibility caught up with him and he was murdered, by the very people who had initially treated him as a kind of god, with a dagger fashioned out of one of the iron spikes that Cook had brought along as gifts to the islanders for whom iron was highly prized. Not an auspicious finale to an otherwise illustrious career, but in the end, it is easy to see how people might feel about Cook on either side of the cultural divide.

So much more could be said about Blue Latitudes, and so much has been left out of this brief commentary. Readers will find much to enjoy and much to ponder in this fascinating book. Highly recommended. ( )
4 vote Poquette | Sep 9, 2014 |
Documents the three high-adventure voyages of Captain James Cook, who between 1768 and 1779 mapped a final third of the globe that was previously uncharted.
  ingxangxosi | May 26, 2014 |
2/12/2010
  MissJessie | Oct 16, 2013 |
An enjoyable and informative read--fascinating account of Captain Cook, his voyages, accomplishments, origins and death. ( )
  nmele | Apr 6, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 30 (next | show all)
Tony Horwitz has done it again. In his earlier, riveting book, "Confederates in the Attic," he journeyed through the South to explore the rich and thorny legacy of the Civil War. With the same keen insight, open- mindedness and laugh-out-loud humor, he undertakes another daunting quest in "Blue Latitudes" -- to travel across the globe in search of the memory of Captain James Cook, the 18th century English explorer whose ambition led him, as he famously put it, "not only farther than any other man has been before me,
but as far I think it possible for man to go."
 
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Epigraph
Ambition leads me not only farther than any man has been before me, but as far as I think it possible for man to go.----THE JOURNAL OF CAPTAIN JAMES COOK
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For Natty, an adventurer at five
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Just after dark on February 16, 1779, a kahuna, or holy man, rode a canoe to His Majesty's Sloop Resolution, anchored off the coast of Hawaii.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0312422601, Paperback)

Captain James Cook's three epic 18th-century explorations of the Pacific Ocean were the last of their kind, literally completing the map of the world. Yet despite his monumental discoveries, principally in the South Pacific, Cook the man has remained an enigma. In retracing key legs of the circumnavigator's journey, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Tony Horwitz chronicles the cultural and environmental havoc wrought by the captain's opening of the unspoiled Pacific to the West, as well as the alternately indifferent and passionate reactions Cook's name evokes during the writer's journeys through Polynesia, Australia, the Aleutians, and the explorer's native England. Horwitz skillfully weaves a biography and travel narrative with warm humor that is natural and human-scale, and his restless inquisitiveness quickly infects the reader. While striking dichotomies abound throughout that journey--Maori toughs who adopt Nazi imagery to symbolize their own fight against white domination, millennia-old Polynesian sexual mores that would shame the Reeperbahn, a sense that Christianity decimated native cultures at least as effectively as Western venereal diseases did--few are more poignant than the ones that abound in Cook's own life. This fine work is an adventurous reminder that answers to historical riddles are elusive at best--and seldom as compelling as the myriad new questions they pose. --Jerry McCulley

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:32:40 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

Documents the three high-adventure voyages of Captain James Cook, who between 1768 and 1779 mapped a final third of the globe that was previously uncharted.

(summary from another edition)

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