Captain Cook's World: Maps of the Life and Voyages of James Cook R.N. Robson, John. 2000

Captain Cook's World: Maps of the Life and Voyages of James Cook R.N. Robson, John. 2000

Robson, John. 
Captain Cook's World: Maps of the Life and Voyages of James Cook R.N.
Random House.

First, and to the point – it is an excellent book!

Is Captain Cook’s World a new biography? No, but it is an excellent thumbnail sketch of Cook’s life and movements. Should it be your first book about Cook? No, but it should be a pretty good candidate for your second.

So what is Captain Cook’s World? To quote from the dust jacket …
"Captain Cook’s World is an atlas, chronology and biography of the life and voyages of this celebrated explorer. A set of 128 specially drawn maps and accompanying text give an overview of Cook’s life, including his early years in England, his time in the North Sea coal trade and with the Royal Navy in Canada, and his three great voyages around the world in HMB Endeavour and HMS Resolution.

Included on the maps are locations visited, named or surveyed by Cook, the routes of his voyages, and sites that have been marked in his honour."

What Robson has created is a fine companion book to the standard biographies and voyage narratives, which usually lack enough detail for the reader to determine where much of the action occurs.

When I received my copy of Robson’s book, I was in the process of reading the official account of Cook’s third voyage and was trying to trace his movements along the coast of Alaska. A few quick references to Captain Cook’s World cleared everything up.

From that point on, I got two books out every time I wanted to read one.

Probably the best way to illustrate the nature of Robson’s book is through a comparison of the maps one usually encounters with a comparable one from Captain Cook’s World.

Many readers are familiar with both Cook’s original sketch of Botany Bay and the version that was published in Hawkesworth’s official account of the first voyage.
Now look at a map of the same area from Captain Cook’s World. The maps are recognizable as all covering the same area, but Robson’s map offers so much more to the modern reader who wants to follow Cook (as opposed to those of us who are fascinated by early maps).

The map from Robson’s book lifts Cook’s movements from the static inaccuracies of the seventeenth century maps and places them against more accurate boundaries. Modern landmarks such as roads and bridges (many bearing names relating to Cook) are included, as are numerous detailed area maps that can help the reader locate Cook-related points of interest.

And he hasn’t done it only for selected points; he follows Cook virtually everywhere he went!
I used the Botany Bay example to point out the updated style of Robson’s maps when compared to earlier efforts. But much of the value of Robson’s book lies in his maps and descriptions of areas which are not usually encountered in the readily available references. For instance, of the 128 maps prepared for the book, the first 24 don’t even relate to Cook’s voyages. Rather, they trace his early life in Cleveland, the North Sea and with the Royal Navy in Scotland, the English Channel and Canada.

If I have any complaint at all, it relates to the lack of scale and orientation on the individual maps, but Robson addresses this shortcoming in his introduction. The impact is minor and doesn’t affect the book’s strengths.

Production values for the book are high; it is hard bound and is printed on coated stock. Size is approximately the same as an A4 sheet in landscape mode. The book is well manufactured and should last for years even with hard use (which it will get as you refer to it in conjunction with every other book you read about Cook). And the price of US$40 (approximately $28 street price from discounted booksellers) is reasonable for a book of this quality.

Need I say more?

Ronald L. Ravneberg

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 1793, volume 24, number 1 (2001).

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