Cover image for Cook : the extraordinary voyages of Captain James Cook
Cook : the extraordinary voyages of Captain James Cook
Thomas, Nicholas.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Walker & Co., [2003]

Physical Description:
xxxvii, 467 pages : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm
General Note:
Published simultaneously under the title: Discoveries : the voyages of Captain James Cook.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Central Library G420.C65 T56 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
Collins Library G420.C65 T56 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
Grand Island Library G420.C65 T56 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Biography
Hamburg Library G420.C65 T56 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Biography
Kenmore Library G420.C65 T56 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
Lackawanna Library G420.C65 T56 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Biography
Orchard Park Library G420.C65 T56 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
Audubon Library G420.C65 T56 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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Commonly regarded as the greatest sea explorer of all time, James Cook made his three world-changing voyages during the 1770s, at a time when ships were routinely lost around the English coast. He made history by making geography-- sailing through previously unknown southern seas, charting the eastern Australian coast and circumnavigating New Zealand, putting many Pacific islands on the map, and exploring both the Arctic and Antarctic. His men suffered near shipwreck, were ravaged by tropical diseases, and survived frozen oceans; his lieutenants-- including George Vancouver and William Bligh-- became celebrated captains in their own right. Exploits among native peoples combined to make Cook a celebrity and a legend.

Cook is not, however, viewed by all as a heroic figure. Some Hawaiians demonize him as a syphilitic rascist who had a catastrophic effect on local health. Indigenous Australians often see him as the violent dispossessor of their lands. Nicholas Thomas explores Cook's contradictory character as never before, by reconstructing the many sides of encounters that were curious and unusual for Europeans and natives alike. The result of twenty years' research, Thomas's magnificently rich portrait overturns the familiar images of Cook and reveals the fascinating and far more ambiguous figure beneath.

Author Notes

Nicholas Thomas is a professor of anthropology at the University of London. A native of Sydney, Australia, he has traveled extensively in the course of his Pacific research and has curated several exhibitions on the history, art, and culture of Oceania.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Drawing on 20 years of research, Thomas recounts Captain James Cook's original three voyages in the 1770s. Thomas writes that his aim is\b to capture the sense of a particular time, and his starting point is not Cook's ancestry or birth but his consciousness of himself at the age of about 39. Thomas divides the book geographically into what he labels England's Atlantic, To the South Sea, Towards the South Pole, and To the North Pacific. Thomas writes much about Cook's anthropological and scientific research, describing various ethnic groups, their customs, and their religious concepts. In one of Cook's letters describing Tahiti, he writes, A virgin is to be purchased here, with the unanimous consent of the parents, for three nails and a knife. Thomas also writes of the flora and fauna in\b the places that Cook visited and of the horrendous weather he encountered at sea. With 54 illustrations and nine maps, this is an exceptionally researched work, one of the most detailed and insightful accounts of Cook's voyages. --George Cohen Copyright 2003 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Rich, vivid and deeply provocative, Thomas's work combines premiere adventure story with thorough history and intensive sociology. The University of London anthropology professor explains Cook's drive to find "the lands South" (in the 18th century, most presumed there was another continent at the south end of the world). Cook (1728-1779) made three harrowing trips in the 1770s in which he discovered Antarctica. In those travels, he explored worlds previously unknown to Europeans: the Pacific and its panoply of island nations. Cook first charted Australia, New Zealand and the entire southern hemisphere, and this aspect of his career is the book's most fascinating portion. Thomas explains that Cook was most interested in charting territories previously unheard of by Europeans; he was, like Lewis and Clark, at heart a geographer and cartographer. However, Cook didn't discover just longitude and latitude; he found whole new peoples. The results of explorations by Cook and his crews (which included an artist and diarist) informed European society of native cultures. How the elevation of some groups and devaluation of others evolved would, Thomas explains, influence centuries of perception about nonwhite, non-European societies and redefine words like "primitive," "savage" and "conqueror." Thomas diligently contextualizes Cook, who appears both heroic and demonic as he finds worlds where people had lived in thriving societies since the dawn of time and where his crews wreak havoc (e.g., bringing venereal disease) even as they attempt to "civilize" those they meet. Thomas displays sure, careful research and thoughtful interpretations, with a style matching the adventures detailed. He spent two decades on this work, and it shows. 8 color, 50 b&w illus.; 7 maps. (Nov.) Forecast: This significant addition to exploration history, sociology and geography will be a certain sell to the university market. But its readability makes it prime for those who enjoyed Tony Horwitz's Blue Latitudes and anyone-teens on up-interested in exploration and adventure. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

While chronicling Cook's extraordinary journeys, this book differs from other recent Cook offerings-Tony Horwitz's Blue Latitudes and Martin Dugard's Farther Than Any Man: The Rise and Fall of Captain James Cook-in that Thomas (Oceanic Art; Double Vision: Art Histories and Colonial Histories in the Pacific) does not embark on a personal quest to retrace Cook's travels. Instead, he uses Cook's cultural encounters to move beyond traditional Cook biographies and focus on the anthropological and scientific research carried out during Cook's three voyages, as evidenced in Cook's and the other scientists' journals. When Cook met up with the diverse cultures in his three voyages to various South Pacific islands (including New Zealand, Tahiti, and Hawaii), he was participating in a two-way cultural exchange that had serious implications for everyone involved. In his writings, he observed and theorized about many customs and rituals, such as the origins of the Maori practice of cannibalism, how different cultures worshiped their gods, and the rite of sacrifice. Thomas's mastery of this material is evident throughout as he draws on years of research that he and others have compiled. An insightful and engrossing book; recommended for all libraries.-Margaret Atwater-Singer, Univ. of Evansville, IN (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Anthropologist Thomas (Goldsmiths College, Univ. of London) looks at Captain James Cook's life in the larger story of worldly transformation in the late 18th century, an era of the expansion of minds as well as empire, for concepts of science, geography, and ethnology were changing. Cook discovered other worlds, and in doing so learned and discovered that there were other ways to live. Although students of Cook's three voyages to the Pacific Ocean will always be interested in the locations and peoples visited, they will find something new here about the way Cook and his companions approached the curious and the different. Thomas reconstructs the many sides of the encounters, and we learn about mutual curiosity, violence, pleasure, and disease. This well-researched book helps readers understand more about the changing nature of 18th-century science and learning. This portrait reveals Cook as a fascinating and ambiguous commentator beneath the stiff surface usually described. This sympathetic and thorough treatment is of far higher quality than many works on Cook's life or voyages now in print. ^BSumming Up: Highly recommended. General audiences and above. B. M. Gough Wilfrid Laurier University

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