Summary and book reviews of Blue Latitudes by Tony Horwitz

Blue Latitudes

By Tony Horwitz

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

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Book Summary

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.

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 ...

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Reviews

Media Reviews
Los Angeles Times Book Review

A vivid narrative -- part history, part travelogue -- and mostly just great fun.

Outside Magazine

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.

Seattle Times

Alternately hilarious, poignant and insightful... This book will keep you enthralled.

Fortune

a smart funny tale... Blue Latitudes is a clever, charming blend of encounters with quirky locals (and fellow Cookaholics), thoroughly researched biography, and thoughtful analysis.

The New York Times Book Review

Blue Latitudes is one of the best... full of humor... An elegant running account of Cook's exploits.

Kirkus Reviews

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.

Booklist - Keir Graff

This thought-provoking travelogue brims with insight and will appeal to anyone who yearns for the days when there was something left to discover--while making them wonder if, really, we should have just stayed home.

Booklist

This thought-provoking travelogue brims with insight...

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. 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.

Author Blurb Bill Bryson, author of In a Sunburned County
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.

Author Blurb Caroline Alexander, author of The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition
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.

Author Blurb Nathaniel Philbrick, author of In the Heart of the Sea
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.

Reader Reviews
Cloggie Downunder

interesting & informative
Blue Latitudes is the 4th book by Pulitzer prize-winning American journalist and writer, Tony Horwitz. It has been described as part-travelogue, part-history and in it, Horwitz follows, to some extent, the three Pacific voyages of British explorer, ...   Read More

shirley

tall ship voyager
Wonderful fascinating view of Captain Cook's remarkable determined drive to further knowledge of unmapped parts of mysterious lands down South. Have formerly read many accounts of other opinions of journeys but here presented in a factual, yet ...   Read More

Paul

Nice book. A whimsical sweep tracing Cook's path, though often with a jaded eye. In a style reminiscent of Bill Bryson (but not, in my opinion, quite so good) this is a nice mix of a travel book and a history book. I learned a lot about Cook, and ...   Read More

TITAN TSAI

ALTHOUGH I`VE JUST READ A LITTLE BIT... WELL.... I'M A TAIWANESE,I MEAN MY ENGLISH IS POOR.
BUT IT 'S EXCELLTENT.....

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