Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Tuesday, May 7, 2024

The Wide Wide Sea : Imperial Ambition, First Contact and the Fateful Final Voyage of Captain James Cook by Hampton Sides - 2024 - 411 Pages

 The Wide Wide Sea : Imperial Ambition, First Contact and the Fateful Final Voyage of Captain James Cook by  Hampton Sides - 2024 - 411 Pages -is  a magnificent historical narrative.

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • A “thrilling and superbly crafted” (The Wall Street Journal) account of the most momentous voyage of the Age of Exploration, which culminated in Captain James Cook’s death in Hawaii, and left a complex and controversial legacy still debated to this day."

“Hampton Sides, an acclaimed master of the nonfiction narrative, has taken on Cook’s story and retells it for the 21st century.”—Los Angeles Times

The Wide Wide Sea : Imperial Ambition, First Contact and the Fateful Final Voyage of Captain James Cook by Hampton Sides focuses on Cook’s last voyage. The purpose of the voyage, sponsored by King George the Third and championed by numerous other high ranking figures was to find the fabled North West Passage.  The hope was this would cut a huge amount of time from a voyage across North America while greatly extending the scope of the British Empire. 

"OJuly 12th, 1776, Captain James Cook, already lionized as the greatest explorer in British history, set off on his third voyage in his ship the HMS Resolution. Two-and-a-half years later, on a beach on the island of Hawaii, Cook was killed in a conflict with native Hawaiians. How did Cook, who was unique among captains for his respect for Indigenous peoples and cultures, come to that fatal moment?

Hampton Sides’ bravura account of Cook’s last journey both wrestles with Cook’s legacy and provides a thrilling narrative of the titanic efforts and continual danger that characterized exploration in the 1700s. Cook was renowned for his peerless seamanship, his humane leadership, and his dedication to science-–the famed naturalist Joseph Banks accompanied him on his first voyage, and Cook has been called one of the most important figures of the Age of Enlightenment. He was also deeply interested in the native people he encountered.  Cook mapped huge swaths of the Pacific, including the east coast of Australia, and initiated first European contact with numerous peoples. He treated his crew well, and endeavored to learn about the societies he encountered with curiosity and without judgment.

Yet something was different on this last voyage. Cook became mercurial, resorting to the lash to enforce discipline, and led his two vessels into danger time and again. Uncharacteristically, he ordered violent retaliation for perceived theft on the part of native peoples. This may have had something to do with his secret orders, which were to chart and claim lands before Britain’s imperial rivals could, and to discover the fabled Northwest Passage. Whatever Cook’s intentions, his scientific efforts were the sharp edge of the colonial sword, and the ultimate effects of first contact were catastrophic for Indigenous people around the world. The tensions between Cook’s overt and covert missions came to a head on the shores of Hawaii. His first landing there was harmonious, but when Cook returned after mapping the coast of the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, his exploitative treatment of the Hawaiians led to the fatal encounter." From penquin press  - The Publisher 

Here are a few things that particularly struck me. Cook and his medical staff some how kept his crew from getting scurvy.   While his crew did have sex with Polynesian women Cook, which planted Gonorrhea on the islands,, a married Quaker, did not.  He was not a rigid Christian ideologue, he did his best to understand the faiths and social structure of the societies he encountered.  In Hawaii he was taken initially as a returning God by some.  Sides vividly brings to life the extreme hardships and dangers of the voyage.  Cook was very much cut off from news of England, he did not know of the outbreak of the American revolution. With 21st century sensibilities I was turned off by the wanton killing of so many animals.  The final battle scenes on Hawaii were very exciting and to me more than a little disturbing.

HAMPTON SIDES is best-known for his gripping non-fiction adventure stories set in war or depicting epic expeditions of discovery and exploration. He is an acclaimed journalist and the author of the bestselling histories Ghost Soldiers, Blood and Thunder, Hellhound On His Trail, In the Kingdom of Ice, On Desperate Ground and, most recently, The Wide Wide Sea. - from the author’s website 

1 comment:

Buried In Print said...

This sounds like quite an interesting read. It's not one for me, but I can understand the appeal, especially for history buffs.