Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before

by Tony Horwitz

Hardcover, 2002

Call number

910.92 H



Henry Holt and Co. (2002), Edition: 1st, 496 pages


This book retraces the voyages of Captain James Cook, the Yorkshire farm boy who drew the map of the modern world. Captain James Cook's three epic journeys in the eighteenth century were the last great voyages of discovery. His ships sailed 150,000 miles, from the Arctic to the Antarctic, from Tasmania to Oregon, from Easter Island to Siberia. When Cook set off for the Pacific in 1768, a third of the globe remained blank. By the time of his violent death in Hawaii in 1779, the map of the world was substantially complete. Tony Horwitz vividly recounts Cook's voyages and the exotic scenes the captain encountered: tropical orgies, taboo rituals, cannibal feasts, human sacrifice. He also relives Cook's adventures by traveling in the captain's wake to such places as Tahiti, Savage Island, and the Great Barrier Reef along the way, he discovers Cook's embattled legacy in the present day. Signing on as a working crewman aboard a replica of Cook's vessel, Horwitz experiences the thrill and terror of sailing a tall ship. He also explores Cook the man: an impoverished farm boy who broke through the barriers of his class and time to become the greatest navigator in British history.… (more)

Media reviews

Tony Horwitz has done it again. In his earlier, riveting book, "Confederates in the Attic," he journeyed through the South to explore the rich and thorny legacy of the Civil War. With the same keen insight, open- mindedness and laugh-out-loud humor, he undertakes another daunting quest in "Blue
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Latitudes" -- to travel across the globe in search of the memory of Captain James Cook, the 18th century English explorer whose ambition led him, as he famously put it, "not only farther than any other man has been before me, but as far I think it possible for man to go."
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User reviews

LibraryThing member Poquette
Reading about the three voyages undertaken by Captain James Cook in the late 18th century leaves one with mixed emotions. On the one hand, as Horwitz points out, Cook "named more of the world than any navigator in history" and his "achievements contributed, in no small way, to London's becoming the
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headquarters of an empire that would ultimately span eleven thousand miles of the globe and rule over 400 million subjects." But on the other hand, in the wake of Cook, massive destruction of Polynesian cultures across the South Pacific was the far-reaching legacy. The western view was that Cook "discovered" storied places from Tahiti to Tonga, but from the Polynesian point of view, they had been there the whole time and the notion of discovery as applied to them is viewed with contempt.

This is the current state of affairs as explained by Tony Horwitz, who not only read about and thoroughly researched the subject of Cook's voyages, which were undertaken between 1768 and 1799, but made an attempt to visit many of the places that were significant in his travels. By interviewing local residents and dignitaries, Horwitz deepened his own understanding of how the Cook voyages could leave such widely divergent reactions. Cook remains a hero in Britain, but is reviled throughout Polynesia, and even 18th century Americans took a dim view of his legacy. Of course, this was at a time when America was trying to throw off the shackles of British rule and so their viewpoint was highly prejudiced. But then they turned around and added to the burdens suffered throughout the Pacific by the influx of well-meaning missionaries who did great damage to local culture in their efforts to introduce Christianity and stamp out any vestiges of indigenous religion.

So exploration and discovery have acquired a bad name, which is a shame because western civilization was greatly benefited by the people who had the courage to go into what was for them the unknown. There are no easy answers to the philosophical questions raised in this context. Unintended consequences are seldom anticipated and certainly it was not Cook's intention to inflict harm. He is blamed for much that he actually tried to prevent once it became apparent to him that the mingling of his crews with local populations was inflicting harm.

Be all this as it may, Horwitz has produced a tremendously interesting account, mingling the story of Cook, the man and leader, with his own present day investigations. From conversations with drugged-up hippies at one extreme to the King of Tonga at the other, and many colorful personalities in between, Horwitz manages to give us a feel for the situation on the ground throughout Polynesia, New Zealand, the east coast of Australia and the Aleutian Islands of Alaska — both now and at the time of Cook's visits.

The consensus of opinion is that Cook himself was a good man. His leadership was exemplary. His first two voyages were enough to put him in the record books. During his third voyage, however, something in him was deteriorating and his judgment seemed to suffer as time went by. By the time of their return to Hawaii from the Arctic, his irascibility caught up with him and he was murdered, by the very people who had initially treated him as a kind of god, with a dagger fashioned out of one of the iron spikes that Cook had brought along as gifts to the islanders for whom iron was highly prized. Not an auspicious finale to an otherwise illustrious career, but in the end, it is easy to see how people might feel about Cook on either side of the cultural divide.

So much more could be said about Blue Latitudes, and so much has been left out of this brief commentary. Readers will find much to enjoy and much to ponder in this fascinating book. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member hhornblower
A little disappointing in that it wasn't what I was expecting. I was thinking more along the lines of an adventure a la Kon Tiki, but what I got was more of a sociological analysis and consequences of the age of exploration. Well written, but just not my cup of tea.
LibraryThing member ABVR
Horwitz's tour of the Pacific in the wake of Captain Cook is an odd mix of history and travel memoir that ultimately feels like less than the sum of its parts. The sketches of Cook at various points in his three voyages are astute and well-drawn, but they don't add up to a complete picture of the
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man or the enterprise that made him a serious contender for the title of "World's Greatest Explorer." The travel vignettes are amusing and insightful, but deliver far more amusement than insight. They also wander away, far too frequently, from the unifying theme of Cook and his impact on the Pacific. Horwitz is at his best when considering (ala Confederates in the Attic the intersection of history and popular memory . . . in this case, the divergent ways in which Cook is remembered by the modern-day residents of the lands he touched.

If an amusing, well-written travelogue spiced with a fair bit of painless history appeals to you, this is your book. If you're looking for a clear understanding of who Cook was and what he meant, try Lynne Withey, Alan Villiers, Alan Moorehead, or Richard Hough. A serious-but-readable look at the diversity of lives lived today in Oceana? You're on your own, mate.
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LibraryThing member Othemts
A long time ago, I meant to read about Captain Cook and now I finally have. The book is not a straight history or biography, although it contains long sections of well-written biographical information. Still, the book is mostly about Hortwitz treading the paths of Captain Cook, and more so, the
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people he meets along the way. Like Confederates in the Attic it’s hard to believe that these people are true, much less that Horwitz can meet them all by happenstance. But Horwitz always manages to see the deeper humanity in all the people he interviews, so as to prevent the book from turning into the freak show. Whether or not Blue Latitudes ever answers the question of the character of James Cook turns out to be irrelevant, as the story of the people today living in Cook’s legacy takes center stage.

Roger: “You try to escape, to find simplicity, and end up bringing all the baggage with you. So you end up turning paradise into the same hellhole you left.” (p. 69)

“Reg’s attraction to Cook was entirely different from my own. While I was drawn to Cook’s restless adventuring and plunge into the unknown, Reg worshipped the man’s modesty, sense of duty, loyalty to home and country. Maybe it was good that we knew so little of Cook’s inner life. As it was, each of us could fill him up with our own longings and imagination.” (p. 303)
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LibraryThing member MrsHoran
In Blue Latitudes, Pulitzer winning writer Tony Horowitz describes his adventures following the path of Captain Cook. His achingly funny, yet candid account of his travels will leave you in stitches. Horowitz describes in detail his trip around the world and his encounters with some of the most
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colorful characters you’ll ever meet!
Horowitz artfully mixes facts with humor as he educates you in the life of Captain Cook. The book switches flawlessly between Cook’s travels and Horowitz’s own. You are able to see both the similarities and the differences between their experiences.
I never thought I could laugh and learn at the same time, but Blue Latitudes proved me wrong! I found myself laughing while actually absorbing information about this interesting man. It takes a truly skilled writer to entertain one as much as Horowitz does. I highly recommend this book whether you’re a traveler or not; you can brave the high seas from the safety of your own couch or bring this book along with you as you sail the waters yourself!
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LibraryThing member ms.c.earthsci
Great read if you like travel and / or history. I really came to appreciate how hard it was to explore the world back in Cook's days, how little he is really admired, and how much the Europeans messed up the world! After I finished the book I had a better understanding of why the explorers and
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their crews did things that seem to be uncivilized and cruel to modern day people. And I agree with Horwitz that Cook got screwed on having few things named after him.
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LibraryThing member montano
This is the book that got me hooked on Tony Horwitz's writing.Part travel book, part history, all fun. Horwitz retraces Captain Cook's path around the globe. This is the way history ought to be taught.
LibraryThing member cestovatela
Inspired by Captain Kirk's injunction to "boldly go where no man has gone before," Tony Horowitz decides to follow in the footsteps of Captain Cook, one of the world's first adventurers. Horowitz's journey takes him to Fiji, Tahiti, Hawaii and obscure South Pacific islands where he witnesses
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natives struggling with the degradation of their culture and the destruction of their environment following an influx of tourism. Horowitz deftly weaves together his own travel tales and historical accounts of Cook's voyages. The result is a book that's both entertaining and informative.
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LibraryThing member ritaer
Authors becomes fascinated with Captain Cook and visits many of the places he discovered while commenting on his character and the results of colonization.
LibraryThing member gmillar
I enjoyed this book immensely. I know many of the places described and it was fun to go back there with Tony and Roger. I liked the friendly, non-judgmental style of writing used. I liked the banter between Tony and Roger and knew a lot of guys like Roger when I was in the Navy. All of that was fun
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but so was the precis of Captain Cook's writings. A lot of work went into this I think.
I would love to have dinner with Tony and Geraldine. I believe it would be a great evening and there would be a lot of really interesting conversation.
I'm going now to find another one of his books - probably "Baghdad Without a Map".
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LibraryThing member Doozer
This is a fun read. Not too deep, but entertaining, educational, and worth reading.
LibraryThing member ksmanning
Not often do I read a book and I slow down near the end because I did not want it to end. This was such a book. "Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before" and drinking beer while doing it.
LibraryThing member dichosa
This is about the author's adventure to follow Cpt Cook's journeys. It is a quick and easy read, though it is easy to put down. His entertaining travel companion makes the story unpredictable and funny at the most inopportune times!
LibraryThing member T42
This was a pretty entertaining book. I thought the most interesting parts were to read about the initial reactions/interactions between Cook's crew and the peoples they encountered.
LibraryThing member AlexaFaith
In Blue Latitudes, author Tony Horowitz travels the routes of the great explorer Captain James Cook. At each of the locations Cook visited, Horowitz compares the modern-day realities to the status during Cook’s 18th century visit. The book focuses on 3 of Cook’s global explorations, the last of
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which ended with his tragic demise in the Hawaiian Islands. The book does an amazing job at comparing modern-day locations to what Cook discovered, and collects opinions from the current residents. One example is in Niue, known to Cook as Savage Island, due to the Natives’ red teeth, and savage, cannibalistic appearance. Horowitz discovers that Niue has always been a very calm and inviting place, with no history of cannibalism; a special banana was the cause of their red teeth. In Cooktown, Australia, an annual festival celebrates Cook’s arrival date; Horowitz finds that the festival is more of a mockery, and isn’t very historical. The book examines what Cook represents to people living in the areas he “discovered”. The book also gives interesting details about Cook’s voyages and about his reputation in the world.
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LibraryThing member edwardsgt
An excellent, often humerous look at Captain Cook's voyages around the world, by tracing his steps and trying to put himself into the mind of Cook as he travelled. At one point he even travels on a replica Endeavour to better understand what it was like on board Cook's ship. The final section where
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Horwitz visits the site of Cook's death in Hawaii is particularly moving.
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LibraryThing member nmaloney
I loved this book because it was quite an adventure through the South Seas. Horowitz is a wonderful author, a distinct pleasure to read.
LibraryThing member WiserWisegirl
Another great Horowitz adventure! I couldn't resist reading, and I am glad I did.
LibraryThing member themythicalcodfish
There are literally not enough stars for me to give this book. The style is highly readable, informative without being even remotely dry, and the author's sense of humor really helps to make the book a deceptively quick read. Perhaps more importantly to me, the references are immaculate and all the
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historical information is very well-researched. I initially borrowed this book from the Maine Charitable Mechanics Association Membership Library in Portland, Maine, but adore it so much that I'm going to buy a copy the first chance I get. A must-read for anyone who still wants to grow up to be an adventurer.
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LibraryThing member tahoegirl
Over all a good read. Portions were dry at times, but I learned so much and enjoyed it more than I would a regular biography. It was also interesting to learn about these men and how much they still love Captain Cook- Who knew he still had a fan club!
LibraryThing member nmele
An enjoyable and informative read--fascinating account of Captain Cook, his voyages, accomplishments, origins and death.
LibraryThing member Martha_Thayer
Thoroughly enjoyable. What could be better than laughing while learning history. Thank you, Tony Horwitz!
LibraryThing member untraveller
Fun and well-written. Makes me want to go to the places I have not been!
LibraryThing member kaitanya64
Horwitz sets out to trace the voyages of Captain Cook. Blending history with travelogue, he does cover most of the major points of Cook's voyages and also touches on the many controversies surrounding Cook's legacy today. I was a bit disappointed that Horwitz's travel narrative is not particularly
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personal and engaging.I almost feel he could have written a better book by staying home and simply writing a vivid account of Cook's voyages based on source material.
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LibraryThing member mcola
Excellent narrative which is part travelogue, part history and part humor. Put off reading this for a while which I now regret. Should have read it sooner. The author tells the story of Capt James Cook in such a way that the tale never becomes boring despite the large length of the book. I learned
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a lot not only about Cook, but also sailing, the Pacific region, Alaska and exploration. Highly reccomended. This is non-fiction writing taken to a high level.
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Indies Choice Book Award (Honor Book — Adult Nonfiction — 2003)




0805065415 / 9780805065411
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