A thoroughly readable biography of the famed sea captain and explorer.
Nautically inclined journalist Dugard (Knockdown, 1999, etc.) applies the techniques of the sports-magazine profile to the life of Captain James Cook, the 18th-century mariner who, he notes, metamorphosed through time into both Captain Hook of Peter Pan and Captain Kirk of Star Trek. Dugard’s sometimes breathless, you-are-there approach, though hardly the stuff of standard maritime history, is quite satisfying, capturing Cook’s irrepressible bravery and the spirit of adventure that fueled his circumnavigations. He is also skilled at capturing period detail and of deciphering the intricacies of the English class system—by the rules of which, he observes, Cook should not have enjoyed the success that he did (he was the only noncommissioned officer in the history of the Royal Navy to have risen to the rank of ship commander), given that he was the son of a lower-class Jacobite rebel and was resolutely nonpolitical in a fiercely politicized military culture. Dugard is less satisfying as an interpreter of Cook’s doubtless fine mind, relying (in the absence of solid documentation and in the face of Cook’s own efforts to shield his thoughts) on guesswork and turning to such New Age accouterments as Carl Jung’s personality-typing theories to account for Cook’s manner of doing things (he brands Cook an INTJ—an Introvert, Intuitive, Thinker, Judger—whose “drive to transfer . . . dreams into reality can even come across as eccentric to those who don’t share the vision”). The author’s readiness to speculate so freely will earn him demerits from serious historians, but general readers won’t much mind.
Instead, they’re likely to enjoy Dugard’s well-made narrative, and to come away sharing his abundant admiration for the admirable—and ultimately unfortunate—Cook.