Excerpt from Blue Latitudes by Tony Horwitz, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Blue Latitudes

By Tony Horwitz

Blue Latitudes
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • Hardcover: Oct 2002,
    496 pages.
    Paperback: Aug 2003,
    496 pages.

    Publication Information

  • Rate this book


Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

PROLOGUE:
The Distance Traveled

"Ambition leads me not only farther than any other man has been before me, but as far I think it possible for man to go." - The Journal of Captain James Cook

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. The kahuna came aboard with a bundle under his arm. Charles Clerke, the ship's commander, unwrapped the parcel in the presence of his officers. He found "a large piece of Flesh which we soon saw to be Human," Clerke wrote in his journal. "It was clearly a part of the Thigh about 6 or 8 pounds without any bone at all."

Two days before, islanders had killed five of the ship's men on the lava shoreline of Kealakekua Bay, and carried off the bodies. Nothing had been seen of the corpses since. Unsure what to make of the kahuna's grisly offering, Clerke and his men asked if the rest of the body had been eaten. The Hawaiian seemed appalled by this question. Did Englishmen eat their foes?

Hawaiians weren't cannibals, the kahuna said. They cut up and cooked the bodies of high chiefs to extract certain bones that possessed godly power. Islanders distributed these remains among their leaders, and discarded the flesh. Hence the kahuna's return of the deboned thigh, "which," Clerk wrote, "he gave us to understand was part of our late unfortunate Captain."

James Cook, the Resolution's captain, was one of the five men who had died on shore. There was no way of knowing for certain if this pungent thigh belonged to him. But several days later, the Hawaiians delivered another package, bundled in a feathered cloak. This one contained scorched limbs, a scalp with the ears attached and hair cut short, and two hands that had been scored and salted, apparently to preserve them. Fifteen years earlier, a powder horn had exploded in Cook's right hand, leaving an ugly gash. This "remarkable Cut," one of his lieutenants wrote, remained clearly visible on the severed right hand delivered to the ship.

While the Hawaiians were disbursing Cook's bones among their leaders, the English performed a parallel ritual aboard the Resolution. Officers and "gentlemen" divided and sold the captain's clothes and other effects, in accordance with shipboard custom. Two and a half years out from home, in waters no other Europeans had sailed before, the English needed the useful items in the dead captain's kit.

On the evening of February 21, the English put their flags at half-mast, crossed the ship's yards, tolled bells, and fired a ten-gun salute. "I had the remains of Capt Cook committed to the deep," Charles Clerke wrote, "with all the attention and honour we could possibly pay it in this part of the World."

The thirty-seven-year-old Clerke, who had inherited command of the Resolution following Cook's death, was himself dying, from tuberculosis. As the ship weighed anchor, he retired to his cabin, turning the quarterdeck over to Lieutenant James King and to the ship's brilliant but testy young master, William Bligh.

"Thus we left Karacacooa bay," King wrote, "a place become too remarkably famous for the very unfortunate & Tragical death of one of the greatest Navigators our Nation or any Nation ever had."


Half a world away from Kealakekua Bay, in a sodden Yorkshire churchyard, a single headstone recalls the family into which James Cook was born. "To Ye Memory of Mary and Mary, Jane and William," the inscription reads, listing siblings who perished by the age of five. The stone also mentions James's older brother, John, who died at the age of twenty-three. A second epitaph commemorates the mother and father of this short-lived brood: "James and Grace Cook were the parents of the celebrated circumnavigator Captain James Cook who was born at Marton Oct. 27th, 1728," the inscription says, "and killed at Owhyhee December 14th, 1779."

Copyright © 2002 Tony Horwitz

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!
Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    •  
    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    •  
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    •  
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    •  
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    •  
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    •  
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
    •  
Sign up, win books!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: A Man Called Ove
    A Man Called Ove
    by Fredrik Backman
    Reading A Man Called Ove was like having Christmas arrive early. Set in Sweden, this debut novel is ...
  • Book Jacket
    The Search
    by Geoff Dyer
    All hail the independent publisher! In May 2014, Graywolf Press brought two of long-revered British ...
  • Book Jacket
    Mrs. Hemingway
    by Naomi Wood
    Naomi Wood's latest novel, Mrs. Hemingway, is a fictionalized biography covering in turn writer...

First Impressions

Members read and review books ahead
of publication. See what they think
in First Impressions!

Books that
expand your
horizons.

Visitors can view a lot of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only

Find out more.

Book Discussions
Book Jacket

Tomlinson Hill
by Chris Tomlinson

Published Jul. 2014

Join the discussion!

  1.  20The Arsonist:
    Sue Miller
  2.  167The City:
    Dean Koontz

All Discussions

Win this book!
Win The Angel of Losses

The Angel of Losses

"Family saga, mystery, and myth intersect in Feldman's debut novel." - Booklist

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

E C H A Silver L

and be entered to win..

Books thatinspire you.Handpicked.

Books you'll stay up all night reading; books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, books that will expand your mind and inspire you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.