Tony Horwitz - Blue Latitudes

In this humorous, educational, and perceptive historical travelogue, Horwitz "boldly goes where Captain Cook has gone before." Readers will find this account informative and entertaining from the first page to the last. Horwitz's sidekick along most of the way is the usually drunk, and always sarcastic, Roger. Blue Latitudes is a rather long book because Horwitz literally goes just about everywhere that Cook went on his three voyages, and the reader is treated to Cook's adventures as well as Horwitz's. Horwitz flips back and forth between his experiences in the Captain's footsteps and the words of Cook or the words of those who were Cook's companions.

The only drawback is the lack of illustrations and/or pictures. Not that Horwitz doesn't paint pictures well with his words, but some of the scenes still cried out for a photograph. For instance, on page 426 Horwitz states

The result [of Herb Kawainui Kane's research and subsequent painting] was a historical reconstruction that gave the scene a documentary quality, about as close to the original moment as it was possible to get. Losing myself in the painting's detail, I felt the same time-travel thrill I'd often experienced when gazing at Civil War photographs.
It would have been nice if us readers, too, could have lost ourselves in the painting's detail (without having to turn to internet research of our own).

Cook was a bit of a freethinker in his day. If Horwitz is to be believed, Cook may have agreed with the tone of as Horwitz writes on page 179

This stubborn Enlightenment faith in firsthand observation, rather than in received opinion, extended to everything Cook did. As a navigator, he remained unswayed by "expert" theories about the existence of a southern continent. So, too, as an observer of strange lands, he suspended judgment about cannibalistic Maori or naked Aborigines whom men of superior education and social standing regarded as "brutes."
Cook's perceptions appear to be hundreds of years ahead of their time and would put him in the camp of those admiring others who live simply. Regarding Aborigines, Cook wrote that
They may appear to some to be the most wretched people upon Earth, but in reality they are far more happier than we Europeans: being wholy unacquainted not only with the superfluous but the necessary Conveniences so much sought after in Europe, they are happy in not knowing the use of them. They live in a Tranquility which is not disturb'd by the Inequality of Condition: The Earth and sea of their own accord furnishes them with all things necessary for life. (p. 177)
Blue Latitudes will cause many chuckles but will also leave many morsels to be pondered. Overall, it provides a fresh, "new" look at the World. New in the sense that the World was still relatively new with respect to human knowledge of other peoples and places when Cook made his discoveries and new in the sense that most people don't know nearly enough about Cook and his history. I highly recommend this book. It's for modern explorers, even those who don't leave their reading chair.

from the publisher:
James Cook's three epic journeys in the eighteenth century were the last great voyages of discovery. When he embarked for the Pacific in 1768, a third of the globe remained blank. By the time he died in 1779, during a bloody clash in Hawaii, the map of the world was substantially complete. Cook explored more of the earth's surface than anyone in history -- sailing from the Arctic to the Antarctic, from Tahiti to Siberia, from Easter Island to the Great Barrier Reef -- and introduced the West to an exotic world of taboo and tattoo, of cannibalism and ritual sex. Yet the impoverished farmboy, who broke the bounds of social class to become Britain's greatest navigator, remains as mysterious today as the uncharted seas he sailed more than two centuries ago.

In Blue Latitudes, Tony Horwitz sets off on his own voyage of discovery. Adventuring in Cook's wake, he relives the captain's journeys and explores their legacy in the farflung lands Cook opened to the West. At sea, aboard a replica of Cook's ship, he works atop a hundred-foot mast, sleeps in a narrow hammock, and recaptures the rum-and-lash world of eighteenth-century seafaring. On land, he meets native people -- Aboriginal and Aleut elders, Maori gang members, the king of Tonga -- for whom Cook is alternately a heroic navigator and a villain who brought syphilis, guns, and greed to the unspoiled Pacific. Accompanied by a carousing Australian mate, he meets Miss Tahiti, visits the roughest bar in Alaska, and uncovers the secret behind the red-toothed warriors of Savage Island. Throughout, Horwitz also searches for Cook the man: a restless prodigy who fled his peasant boyhood, and later the luxury of Georgian London, for the privation and peril of sailing off the edge of the map.

Horwitz's bestselling Confederates in the Attic combined history and adventure in a harrowing and hilarious tour of the Civil War South. In Blue Latitudes, he goes international, taking readers on a wild ride across hemispheres and centuries, from Bora-Bora to the Bering Sea, from the mud hut where Cook was born to the sunstruck shore where he died in Hawaii. Poignant, probing, antic, and exhilarating, Blue Latitudes brings to life a man whose voyages helped create the global village we inhabit today.

"Blue Latitudes is thoroughly enjoyable. No writer has better captured the heroic enigma that was Captain James Cook than Tony Horwitz in this amiable and enthralling excursion around the Pacific." --Bill Bryson, author of In a Sunburned Country

"Horwitz's adventures pay illuminating tribute to the great navigator -- to Captain Cook himself and to his intrepid eighteenth-century colleagues, including the improbably attractive Sir Joseph Banks. But most of all Blue Latitudes offers clear-eyed, vivid, and highly entertaining reassurance that there are still outlandish worlds to be discovered." --Caroline Alexander, author of The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition

"Blue Latitudes is a rollicking read that is also a sneaky work of scholarship, providing new and unexpected insights into the man who out-discovered Columbus. A terrific book -- I inhaled it in one weekend." --Nathaniel Philbrick, author of In the Heart of the Sea

"In an entertaining, informative look at the life and travels of Capt. James Cook, Horwitz . . . combines a sharp eye for reporting with subtle wit and a wonderful knack for drawing out the many characters he discovers . . . Horwitz skillfully paces the book by intertwining his own often amusing adventures with tales of Cook and his men. Despite the historical focus, Horwitz doesn’t stray too far from the encounters with everyday people that gave his previous books such zest . . . With healthy doses of both humor and information, the book will please fans of history, exploration, travelogues and, of course, top-notch storytelling." --Publishers Weekly (Starred review)

"Horwitz . . . dogging the wake of Captain Cook, discerningly braids Cook’s long-ago perceptions with his own present-day inquiries into the lands the Captain encountered . . . filled with history and alive with contrasts." --Kirkus Reviews

"Tony Horwitz has written about oddball history buffs before . . . this time he becomes one himself . . . The author sets off island-hopping across the South Pacific in the wake of Cook’s Endeavor producing some classically absurd Horwitzian scenes . . . But there are sobering moments too; Horwitz finds many islands in the grip of a fierce anticolonialism, with Cook as convenient lightning rod." --Outside Magazine