Favorite Non-Fiction Books, #95: Blue Latitudes, Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before
I was saddened this morning to hear of the passing of Tony Horwitz, the experiential travelogue author most probably recognize from his book “Confederates in the Attic”. I enjoyed the Pulitzer winner’s “Voyage Long and Strange” about pre-Mayflower America, but my favorite of his books was the one listed here. I’ve already described my fascination with Cook and his voyages, so Horwitz’s modern retracing of the legendary mariner’s nautical footsteps was a must-read.
Horwitz is Bill Bryson without the judgmental snottiness, a less arch Mary Roach. He’s genuinely interested in the people and places he visits, sympathetic and observational, a trained journalist and gifted storyteller. He treats Cook’s legacy with an even hand, neither woke white knight nor fragile white apologist. There are legitimate challenges facing the people of Polynesia, for instance, including post-colonial economic depression, substance abuse, cultural erosion, and climate change. Some of these can be traced back to the voyages of European discovery, some have more complicated roots. Paradise lost is an easy tale to tell, but a simplistic one. Horwitz worked hard to disentangle the threads of that narrative, but it’s a Herculean task. No matter how you frame it, what’s happened in the Pacific Islands, from the Aleutians to the Hawaiians to the Solomons, is tragic.
Curiosity, compassion, and writing chops - the world lost a good chunk of all three today. And that’s tragic too. Sixty is far too young to lose such a talent.