Blue Latitudes: boldly going where Captain Cook has gone before. Horwitz, Tony. 2002

Blue Latitudes: boldly going where Captain Cook has gone before. Horwitz, Tony. 2002

Horwitz, Tony.
Blue Latitudes: boldly going where Captain Cook has gone before.

Three different dust-jackets and two different titles (but only one sub-title) with only one set of words within this 480 page book by CCS member Tony Horwitz published in 2002 in the USA, Australia and UK.
Blue Latitudes: boldly going where Captain Cook has gone before, ISBN 0805065415, Henry Holt and Co, USA.
Into the Blue: boldly going where Captain Cook has gone before, ISBN 1865088994, Allen and Unwin, Australia.
Into the Blue: boldly going where Captain Cook has gone before, ISBN 0747560471, Bloomsbury, UK.

The variety is appropriate as the book is like no other one on Captain Cook. It's a travelogue really, not a biography. It's a journey to many parts of the world where Cook went, with a re-telling of his life that is not so much chronological as geographical.
Horwitz wondered what places associated with Cook, like Bora-Bora, the Bering Sea, the Great Barrier Reef, Tonga, Kealakekua Bay "were like today, if any trace of Cook's boot prints remained" and how the Pacific peoples' "descendants remember Cook now". He set off, sometimes alone, most often with a friend, and discovered some fascinating people. And it is these people, their lives today, their reactions to Horwitz' questions and the colourful picture he paints of them which makes this book such an excellent read. It isn't an adventure story that makes you want to turn over the page to discover what happened next, but a picture of the human world with such wonder-ful characters that one becomes curious to know who he meets next and what he will write about them. And all the time Horwitz relates them to Cook, or is it the other way round?

"In Cook's day, Tahiti's bountiful landscape fed tens of thousands of people, as well as the hundred hungry sailors aboard the Endeavour. Now, the equation was reversed: a tiny fraction of Tahitians lived on the land, and roughly 85 percent of their foodstuffs were imported from Europe." He finds the Tahitians still use "words influenced by English… A common greeting, yoana, was believed to have derived from the 'your honor'."

After Tahiti, and some of the other Society Islands, Horwitz visits Gisborne in New Zealand, Botany Bay and Cooktown in Australia (joining in a re-enactment of Cook's Landing), Tonga, North Yorkshire and London in the UK, Alaska (not Nootka Sound) and Hawaii. At one point he realises that "I'd gone where Cook went, but I couldn't share his experience. The problem wasn't simply that I traveled by jet, rather than by wooden ship. It was also that I carried an image of every place I went before I got there."

So he decides to visit Niue, called Savage Island by Cook. "Traveling virtually blind to a land I hadn't known existed, and whose name I couldn't even pronounce, seemed as close as I could get to the freshness of discovery I so envied in Cook's voyages." It's as well Horwitz never collected stamps, or he might have been aware of the place through them. It is on this island that he describes how deeply his research into Cook's sole had affected him. "I woke the next morning from a disturbing dream in which I'd killed Beaglehole with a cannonball." J.C. Beaglehole's books on Cook are Horwitz' constant, silent travelling companions and they are listed in the bibliography that stretches to seven pages and covers books relevant to Cook's journey as well as to a modern traveller's.

The 18-page index is very detailed and has two items that I must quote:
Thornton, Clifford, 319-24, 378-79, 383-86, 388, 394, 402, 412-418, 421-23, 430, 439-42

Horwitz met several members of the CCS during his journeys, some of whom appear in the book. Our President, Cliff Thornton becomes his guide to London and joins him in Hawaii to commemorate Cook's death. Horwitz captures some of Thornton's great thoughts on Cook, such as, "The best you can do is catch an echo of the man. You can almost never reach out and touch him."
Not everything is to the liking of Horwitz, who notes "In Alaska, Cook, for the first time, met natives in the early throes of the upheaval wrought by sustained European contact. The picture he and his men came away with proved a melancholy preview of what lay in store for the societies Cook himself had opened to the West." However, "For all that had changed Polynesia still offered glimpses of the pleasing simplicity that appealed to Cook and his men."

This book is number three in my list of "essential books for a Cook enthusiast" after Beaglehole's biography and Robson's maps. And in his "Notes on Sources" Horwitz scans the many books published about Cook picking out the other ones that were useful to him and, I believe, to many of us.

Ian Boreham

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 2002, volume 25, number 4 (2002).

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