While these urbane comparisons of the South Seas islands as they were during Captain James Cook's three voyages of discovery (about 200 years ago) and as they are today can't be called exciting, they do mix an interesting story with several quasi-anthropological observations. First purpose of Cook's initial voyage was to observe the transit of Venus across the sun's face from the best possible vantage point. And he was to be accompanied by a very accomplished botanist, who would bring back specimens. He sailed around the Horn and eventually arrived at Tahiti, where he was but vaguely successful in his mission (Venus was surrounded by gas and certain aspects of it could not be measured). Cook found the islander an incorrigibly lazy type, an amoral thief and given to sexual athletics of a boisterous character. Within a hundred years, however, much of this was to change, what with the advent of missionaries bent on making Paradise a respectable place. Both Cook and his botanist were fluent, straightforward writers, noting dress, ceremonial activities, burial practices and so on, and Mr. Cameron has mined their journals heavily. His book avoids lush descriptions, being more of a lament over misguided civilizing processes.