Tony Horwitz’s new book, Blue Latitudes,
documents a modern-day odyssey in which he retraces the voyages of Captain
James Cook, the Yorkshire farm boy who drew the map of the modern world.
Once again, Horwitz uses a traveling companion, Roger Williamson, who acts
as his funny man sidekick to relieve the sometimes tiresome facts of
Captain James Cook's three epic 18th-century explorations
of the Pacific Ocean were the last of their kind, literally completing the
map of the world. Horwitz’s book shows readers how the world has changed,
in most cases not necessarily for the better. In retracing key legs of the
circumnavigator's journey, he chronicles the cultural and environmental
havoc wrought by Cook’s opening of the unspoiled Pacific to the West.
Horwitz compares Cook’s three voyages to the modern-day
T.V. epic, Star Trek. When Cook set sail for the Pacific in 1768, a third of
the world lay unknown. By the time he died in Hawaii in 1779, the world map
was all but complete.
Cook explored more of the earth’s surface than anyone
before or since. He introduced the West to an exotic world of cannibalism
and ritual sex. Yet remains as mysterious today as the unchartered seas he
In an entertaining, informative look at the life and
travels of Captain Cook, Horwitz combines a sharp eye for reporting with
subtle wit and a wonderful knack for drawing out the many characters he
discovers along the way. Horwitz recounts Cook's rise from poverty in a
large family in rural England to an improbable and dazzling naval career
that brought him worldwide fame. At the same time, he tells about his own
adventure following in Cook's footsteps, visiting his far-flung
destinations. Readers will find this book satisfying as Horwitz skillfully
intertwines his own often quite funny adventures with tales of Cook and his
men direct from their journals.
Ever the great adventurer, Horwitz begins his own journey
of exploration aboard a replica of Cook’s first ship, the Endeavor. He,
along with other adventure travelers work long hours with virtually no
sleep, and what they do get is in return is a narrow hammock and the rigors
of life aboard an 18th-century sailing ship. After leaving the
Endeavor, he meets the King of Tonga, Maori gang members and Aboriginal
leaders on his trek across the South Pacific.
In one of the many humorous sections, he writes about the
Savage Islands, which, as it turns out, weren’t really savage at all. In
this same section, he spends the better part of a week hunting for the
elusive red banana, which when eaten stains the teeth red–when Cook saw
the islanders, he thought they had just finished eating humans.
While Horwitz’s newest book captivates his readers, it
doesn’t compare to his last one, Confederates in the Attic.
Perhaps, that’s because he tried to cover too much in this book. That
said, Blue Latitudes is certainly worth a read, especially for the
modern-day insights Horwitz gives into life in the South Pacific. With
healthy doses of both humor and provocative information, the book should
please fans of history, exploration, travelogues and, of course, top-notch