The Pacific: in the Wake of Captain Cook, with Sam Neill.
The author of this book holds a PhD in art, history and cultural economics, and is based in Australia. A great many notes were also added by other people, amongst them Sam Neill, a well-known New Zealand actor.
This book was inspired by the television series produced by the Fox History Channel in which Sam Neill, the presenter, takes a personal journey to map his own understanding of Europe’s greatest navigator and of the Pacific Ocean. This book does much the same, following Neill’s thoughts from the TV series.
It is a book entirely different from the majority of books on James Cook. It covers his three voyages in the Pacific, including his trip to find the North-West passage and his eventual demise in Hawai`i. In doing so it points the finger of blame on Cook for a lot of the problems that stemmed from his time in the Pacific. For example, in talking about New Zealand and Māori, Neill states that “Cook's arrival put that [Māori] survival into immediate risk”. What happened many years later was not his fault so “immediate risk” seems overly negative to me.
In general I found it at times a little negative, especially as it is basing today’s view on events that happened 250 years ago. I agree, with the advantage of hindsight, there were things that happened during that time period that would not be acceptable today. It mentions, for example, the wiping out of some of the wildlife. This has happened throughout history, and today we have generally gained a majority of control of this problem. It does not mention species like the Moa that were wiped out by the indigenous people of New Zealand well before Cook’s time.
The style of the book is unusual in that almost every page has blocks of grey quoting people past and present to add/highlight items mentioned in the general book text. The comments are from both historical and current persons relative to the events described on that page. It is used instead of footnotes or appendices, and works quite well, though it perhaps disturbs the natural flow of reading. For me the only thing that detracts from this approach is that the current comments about historical detail of what happened a couple of centuries ago are based on oral history.
For Captain Cook enthusiasts, the book is a good read, but, like the anaesthetic you might have found in HMB Endeavour’s medical cabin, I recommend you have a piece of wood handy to protect your tongue against some of the comments! The book presents a different view of Cook’s voyages. Although it tends to blame him for the evils that befell indigenous people (which I disagree with), it also admires the man for his talents in navigation and seamanship.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 61, volume 41, number 4 (2018).