VOYAGES OF DISCOVERY: Captain Cook and the Exploration of the Pacific by Lynne Withey

VOYAGES OF DISCOVERY: Captain Cook and the Exploration of the Pacific

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Though the three Pacific voyages of Captain James Cook occupy the central position in this splendidly researched and gracefully written history/biography/adventure tale, the narrative ranges far more widely than through a mere recital of the explorer's late-18th-century peregrinations from Antarctica to Alaska. Just as in Dearest Friend, her 1981 biography of Abigail Adams, Withey here is scrupulous in delineating the depths and resonances of her story, which include the exploits of those who preceded Cook and those who followed after him. She is especially adept at relating the explorers' political and social beliefs to their interpretations of the Pacific societies they enountered. She points out, for example, the dichotomy that existed between the perception of the native populations as unspoiled children of nature and the view of them as depraved cannibals, infanticides, liars, and thieves. She investigates with sensitivity and admirable clarity the reasons for and long. term effects of these explorations of the Pacific Basin, and she is no less concerned with such details of shipboard life as the use of sauerkraut as a specific against scurvy, personal idiosyncrasies such as Cook's inexplicable shifts from paterfamilias to martinet, and the linkages between his murder and Hawaiian religious prophesies. The narrative is dotted with colorful subsidiary figures: Joseph Priestley, who was refused a position on Cook's scientific staff because of his Unitarianism; James Boswell, who considered joining Cook on one of his voyages, and Captain William Bligh, who did join and was well liked. There is also an unnamed goat who circumnavigated the globe twice--once with Samuel Wallis and once with Cook himself. By couching her well-reasoned conclusions in just such lively and telling details, Withey has produced one of the most rewarding histories of the year.

Pub Date: Oct. 28th, 1987
Publisher: Morrow