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Blue Latitudes

by Tony Horwitz

Blue Latitudes by Tony Horwitz X
Blue Latitudes by Tony Horwitz
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2002, 496 pages
    Aug 2003, 496 pages

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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 light-hearted way so could barely bring myself to return it to library so I guess I shall just have to buy it - a joy.

Power Reviewer
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, navigator and cartographer, James Cook. Horwitz compares points of interest from Cook’s journals with their current day state and comments on contrasts and similarities. Observations from Cook’s diary of the peoples and lands he discovered, which might have made for dry reading, are made more interesting when related to Horwitz’s own present-day experiences in those places. Horwitz admits that it is difficult for him to faithfully follow Cook’s travels when he is not doing so in a wooden ship sailing to inaccessible, inhospitable and antisocial places like Antarctica, which he expediently omits. Horwitz starts his experience with a short stint on HMS Bark Endeavour, to give him a taste of a sailor’s life in the 18th century. He then travels on, by more modern means, to Tahiti and Bora Bora, New Zealand, Australia, Niue and Tonga, Yorkshire and London, Alaska and, finally, to the scene of Cook’s death at Kealakekua Bay on the island of Hawaii. His companion is cynical, drinking, swearing, Aussie (ex-Yorkshire) Roger, whose wry reflections add plenty of humour. Horwitz comments on the changes wrought to peoples first discovered by Cook, because of that discovery, and the impossibility of Cook’s missions: terra australis and the North West Passage. If the eyes begin to glaze over in the Tonga chapter, the mention of Cook’s descendants soon remedies this. Amid the dearth of authentic Cook relics in Yorkshire, Horwitz finds a clue to Cook’s character in an unlikely place. It was interesting to learn of the derivation from Polynesian of certain words and expressions now in common usage in the English language, among them tattoo and taboo. Bougainvillea and kangaroo also had surprising origins. An interesting and informative read.

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 quite a bit about the places he visited today. Informative, and a nice, easy read.
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