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In Search of Captain Cook: exploring the man through his own words O'Sullivan, Dan. 2008


Carr 1983In Search of Captain Cook: exploring the man through his own words
By Dan O'Sullivan, and published in 2008 by I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd. ISBN 978-1-84511-483-1

I have known Dan O'Sullivan for some time and knew that this book has been in gestation for several years.

I have waited eagerly to read what the author had discovered. The wait was well worthwhile!

The author is a retired history teacher, but I suspect that he would have had an equally successful career in the forensic field. His meticulous examination of Cook's journals is a work of art in itself. First, he dissects the journals to separate Cook's own writing from those sections that Cook had copied from others, and from those parts that his editors had added. Then he educates the reader into the context in which certain words were used, and explains the meanings that some words had in the eighteenth century so that we do not misconstrue the captain with our 21st century interpretation.

I wondered what references the author would draw upon in his biographic analysis. I found that whilst some of the expected passages from Cook's journals are quoted to illustrate particular points, the author also draws on a wide and interesting range of references many of which are new to this reviewer. There is a comprehensive list of the references used at the back of the book.

There are relatively few illustrations in this book, but then few are needed as this is a book primarily about the words of Cook and others. I was attracted by the author's very personable writing style in which he informally addresses the reader in the first person. Members will be pleased to hear that the author (a member of the CCS) mentions the society and recommends readers to our website.

After eighteen thoroughly interesting chapters the reader reaches the final section, called the Conclusion. I had spotted this section when I first looked at the contents page, and I am pleased to say that during my reading I managed to resist the temptation to jump to the Conclusion and see how the author had summarised his findings. Suffice to say that this section continues the high standard set by the preceding chapters, but I will leave you to read the author's findings for yourself.

Many books have been written about Cook and most rehearse the same well-worn scenarios. This book does not follow the usual formula and I found it to be a most educational and enlightening read.

The author has already written several history textbooks. This book is his first venture into Captain Cook. I hope that it will not be his last.

Reviewer: Cliff Thornton

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 47, volume 31, number 3 (2008).

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