Cameron (The Impossible Dream, 1972; Mountains of the Gods, 1985) effortlessly scans the European exploration and exploitation of the Pacific. Beginning with the voyage of Magellan in 1521, Cameron details the first circumnavigations--those of the Englishman Drake, the Spaniard Quiros, the Frenchman Bougainville, and, of course, of Captain James Cook. True paradises and ""Noble Savages"" were discovered in places like Tahiti, but the Europeans set out quickly to change all that (as one commander recounted in his log: ""The Captain ordered a party of soldiers to go ashore and try to catch some of the natives, so as to establish peace and friendships""). The effective destruction of the Polynesians as a people ensued; the Pacific islands became a battleground for the great powers. Cameron also recounts the gruesome 1733 exploration of Vitus Bering, who discovered the Aleutians but lost his life and a good portion of his crew. Not to be denied, the Americans under Captain Charles Wilkes made a belated voyage of discovery in 1840; Wilkes claimed that he was the first to fight the Antarctic mainland, but he probably saw a large ice pack, was roundly accused of cheating, then publicly reprimanded. The final portion of the book is devoted to the ruthless exploitation of the Pacific, whether through the wholesale slaughter of seals and whales, or the destructive influence of missionaries on the Polynesians. No new ground covered here; nonetheless, an intelligent and engrossing effort.