"One is carried away with the general, grand, and indistinct notion of a Voyage Round the World," James Boswell confided to Samuel Johnson after dining with Cook in London. Perched in a cane rocker on my back porch in Virginia, lawnmowers murmuring in the distance, I felt the same impulse. Except for the coast near Sydney, I'd seen none of the territory Cook explored: Bora-Bora, the Bering Sea, The Great Barrier Reef, Tonga, Kealakekua Bay -- the list of alluring destinations seemed endless.
I wondered what these places were like today, if any trace of Cook's boot prints remained. I also wanted to turn the spyglass around. Cook and his men were as exotic to islanders as natives had seemed to the English. What had Pacific peoples made of pale strangers appearing from the sea, and how did their descendants remember Cook now?
I wanted to probe Cook, as well. His journals recorded every detail of where he went, and what he did. They rarely revealed why. Perhaps, following in Cook's wake, I could fathom the biggin-born farm boy whose ambition drove him farther than any man, until it killed him on a faraway shore called Owhyhee.
Copyright © 2002 Tony Horwitz
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