Captain Cook - Voyager between worlds.
Just when you thought that you had read all the different ways of recounting Cook's voyages of discovery, along comes John Gascoigne with a new approach. Voyager between Worlds is the book's subtitle and reflects Cook's physical and cultural journeys between England and the Pacific. However, after reading the book I found that this subtitle is replete with interpretations relating to Cook and his personal "voyage" through life.
The first chapter is devoted to Cook's life and covers the usual subjects. But the meat of the book is in the seven chapters that follow. These are essays into different thematic aspects of the life of Cook and the peoples he encountered; they cover the Sea, Trade, War, Politics, Religion, Sex and Death. Each topic is sufficiently broad to enable the author to cover a range of issues, e.g. "The Sea" contrasts each culture's approach to the construction of vessels, sailing, navigation, superstitions, fishing, etc. In the author's comparison of these different aspects he highlights the similarities that exist as well as contrasting their differences. It is on reading these sections that one is reminded that within the Pacific there were many separate "worlds" that Cook visited.
Most books are a balance between what the author wanted to write and what the publisher wanted to produce for his budget. The structure of this book made me wonder how many thematic sections the author had begun before ending up with the seven contained in this book.
I enjoyed reading the book as the author is a good storyteller, and is able to link together topics that at first sight appear quite disparate. Whilst the chapter on Cook's life contains no surprises, each of the thematic chapters is an unpredictable pot-pourri that makes for an interesting read. His comparative analyses of the different cultures provide the reader with much information and interpretation. I would have enjoyed the book more without Gascoigne's extensive use of footnotes. The first footnote is encountered in the third line of the Preface, and they come thick and fast thereafter, so much so that 37 pages of the book's 300 pages are needed to list the author's notes; that listing requires more pages than any of the thematic chapters. One wonders if the author really needed to substantiate every fact and statement, but this is a very subjective area, and other readers may appreciate such a detailed approach.
The book is illustrated with some good maps and images, but I found their reproduction to be rather poor with many of the contemporary images "flat" and lacking contrast and detail.
The author is both well-travelled (having visited many museums with important collections) and well read, as the book has an extensive bibliography covering manuscripts as well as printed material. There is also a very detailed index. I suspect that this book will prove to be popular with students facing a topic on Cook, particularly those undergraduates who find that they no longer have to wade through Beaglehole's volumes as Gascoigne has already collated so much material under his thematic headings.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 43, volume 30, number 4 (2007).