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James Cook, born in 1728, was one of the most celebrated navigators/explorers of his time. His voyages in the Royal Navy to the eastern and western seaboards of North America, the North and South Pacific, the Arctic, and the Antarctic brought a new understanding of the geography and of the peoples, flora, and fauna of the lands he discovered. Cook produced maps of unpreced James Cook, born in 1728, was one of the most celebrated navigators/explorers of his time. His voyages in the Royal Navy to the eastern and western seaboards of North America, the North and South Pacific, the Arctic, and the Antarctic brought a new understanding of the geography and of the peoples, flora, and fauna of the lands he discovered. Cook produced maps of unprecedented accuracy; revolutionized the seafarers' diet, all but eliminating scurvy; and exploded the myth of the Great Southern Continent imagined by earlier geographers and scientists. Hough consulted numerous archives and traveled in Cook's wake from Alaska to Tasmania, visiting many of the Pacific islands.


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James Cook, born in 1728, was one of the most celebrated navigators/explorers of his time. His voyages in the Royal Navy to the eastern and western seaboards of North America, the North and South Pacific, the Arctic, and the Antarctic brought a new understanding of the geography and of the peoples, flora, and fauna of the lands he discovered. Cook produced maps of unpreced James Cook, born in 1728, was one of the most celebrated navigators/explorers of his time. His voyages in the Royal Navy to the eastern and western seaboards of North America, the North and South Pacific, the Arctic, and the Antarctic brought a new understanding of the geography and of the peoples, flora, and fauna of the lands he discovered. Cook produced maps of unprecedented accuracy; revolutionized the seafarers' diet, all but eliminating scurvy; and exploded the myth of the Great Southern Continent imagined by earlier geographers and scientists. Hough consulted numerous archives and traveled in Cook's wake from Alaska to Tasmania, visiting many of the Pacific islands.

30 review for Captain James Cook: A Biography

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jan-Maat

    A brief survey of this book revealed that my sister and I had given it to our father for his birthday in 1994. It is a curious book that sails at a fair clip through Captain Cook's life. We'd seen some kind of exhibit about Cook in Whitby once when we were on holiday. Cook joined the royal navy in his late twenties after some years on colliers bring coal from north-east England to places in want of it. In the navy he participated in the conquest of Canada during which he was taught the rudiments A brief survey of this book revealed that my sister and I had given it to our father for his birthday in 1994. It is a curious book that sails at a fair clip through Captain Cook's life. We'd seen some kind of exhibit about Cook in Whitby once when we were on holiday. Cook joined the royal navy in his late twenties after some years on colliers bring coal from north-east England to places in want of it. In the navy he participated in the conquest of Canada during which he was taught the rudiments of surveying- one of the curiosities of the time was that training seems to have been effectively by means of apprenticeship and an officer's skills derived from those he had served with. Cook, although just a warrant officer at the time had sufficiently demonstrated his skill as surveying to be appointed to lead a two ship expedition to observe the transit of Venus from Tahiti. They took with them Joseph Banks with two Swedes (gentlemen of that northern nation well acquainted with the principles of Carl Linnaeus rather than the vegetables), two painters, and sealed instructions. On this voyage they observed the transit of Venus, surveyed the coast of New Zealand, ran aground on the great barrier reef and lost about a third of the crew to disease in Dutch Batavia(view spoiler)[ too my surprise the Dutch were also prone to scurvy - so apparently they were no sauerkraut eaters either (hide spoiler)] , this was a great success as typically half the crew might be lost to scurvy. Cook was committed to the health of his crew, insisting that they eat sauerkraut and wash their clothes when ever there was enough fresh water - so he could not help but notice that many of the crew after Tahiti had contracted venereal disease , brought to the island in Cook's opinion by the dastardly Spanish - except they hadn't, it was Yaws disease - in any case the afflicted men were treated with arsenic injections. Cook was promoted and put in charge of a second expedition to find the hypothetical great southern continent consisting of theResolution and the Adventure away from Cook's watchful eye on-board the Adventure the crew skipped eating their sauerkraut and suffered from scurvy instead, given independent command the Adventure skedaddled for home and got back to Britain a year before Cook who instead discovered South Georgia on his way back from Easter Island. Generally among European states there was a tension between producing accurate charts and state security, part of Cook's work was correcting possibly deliberately inaccurate foreign maps, the Dutch even left some islands off their charts to discourage unwelcome visitors. There was some sense to this from a colonial point of view as Cook was trying to muscle the French out of Tahiti, while the Spanish had turned up there between his 2nd and 3rd voyages with a couple of priests and a cow or two to claim the island for his Majesty Charles III. In Britain, Cook contemplated retirement but instead volunteered to lead an expedition to uncover the then mythical north-west passage, only now thanks to global warming emerging from the ice. George III, a kindly monarch, had been troubled by reports of the warfare on Tahiti, feeling that if the people were occupied with animal husbandry instead that they would be too busy to fight each other. Cook was commissioned to carry breeding pairs of livestock to the islanders(view spoiler)[ as a rule they took goats in any case to provide milk for the officers (hide spoiler)] . The beasts drink a lot and require forage and many die when they were allowed ashore at Cape colony. So when Cook starts to give out these well travelled animals to the people of Tonga he tries to impress upon them how inordinately expensive they are. The remaining livestock he gifted to the Tahitians and then sailing north he happened across Hawaii, where upon returning to the island from the north-west coat of Canada he was killed on the beach. There's a good wind in the sails that carries Hough's narrative briskly along, but he never gets us close to Cook, who remains firmly in his cabin. This is slightly curious since in his introduction Hough makes claims for the distinctiveness of Cook particularly in his attitudes to the Polynesians (still, whatever Cook's own attitudes, locals were fired upon and sometimes killed though not always upon Cook's orders), and since not only are Cook's own journals in print but it is clear from Hough's text that there are enough accounts written by other participants on these voyages that he can point out when Officers omitted some occurrence from the official log. So the book strikes me more as an account of Cook's voyages than as a biography. Many of the crew had picked up a bit of Tahitian language and much to my surprise (and perhaps theirs too) this was understood in New Zealand and Hawaii. This being the 18th century the crew eat anything (apart from sauerkraut and Walrus steaks) that moves when ever they make landfall they also trade ship's stores, in particular nails, for sex where and whenever they come across women (view spoiler)[Sodomy was punishable by death under the articles of war, however Hough says, without offering evidence, that Cook turned a blind eye to instances of it (hide spoiler)] . They trade Tahitian cloth to the Maoris for food, and Cook plants European vegetables whenever he gets the opportunity. One Taihitian was taken to Britain and then brought back on the third voyage, he also acquired a pair of Maori boys as servants. Hough says that Cook's particular bad temper on his third voyage was caused, not just by reaching the age of fifty, but from having picked up a parasite on his second voyage which consumed his B vitamins leaving him depressed and ill tempered. This reminded me of the parasite one can apparently pick up from cats that once it has affected the brain leaves the sufferer inclined to take risks and to die in car accidents. Hough is also of the opinion that the Hawaiians literally regarded Cook as a god and so were particularly annoyed when he returned, there is though apparently some debate over this. Hough presents European contact with Polynesians only from one perspective so they are all thieves, though Maori are in addition martial and inclined to eat people. Still a reader might feel that getting to know about these isolated societies might be a highlight of a book about Cook. Cook left a widow in a modest two up, two down house on Mile End road- long since demolished, who outlived all their sons (who all ended up in the navy). I was left curious about the fate of the animals - did they thrive or were they eaten?

  2. 5 out of 5

    Mikey B.

    James Cook led three world wide expeditions of exploration in the Pacific Ocean. Cook was renowned beforehand as an excellent surveyor and map-maker. Prior to his Pacific journeys he had already travelled to present-day Canada and did some very accurate map-making of the St. Lawrence River and what is now Newfoundland and Labrador (he also played a minor role when James Wolfe (British) defeated Louis Montcalm (French) at Quebec City in 1759, a significant event in Canadian history). His first expe James Cook led three world wide expeditions of exploration in the Pacific Ocean. Cook was renowned beforehand as an excellent surveyor and map-maker. Prior to his Pacific journeys he had already travelled to present-day Canada and did some very accurate map-making of the St. Lawrence River and what is now Newfoundland and Labrador (he also played a minor role when James Wolfe (British) defeated Louis Montcalm (French) at Quebec City in 1759, a significant event in Canadian history). His first expedition took him to the Pacific to make measurements for the eclipse of the sun which was done in Tahiti. Another aspect was to shed light on the ongoing hypothesis that there was an undiscovered continent somewhere out there, namely Australia. And in doing this he also discovered, explored and mapped New Zealand (both North and South islands). In Australia, along the Great Barrier Reef, Cook’s boat “The Endeavour” almost sunk when it hit a coral reef which damaged the hull of the boat. The boat needed to be fixed and patched up – and then successfully navigated out of these treacherous waters. The intrepidness and resiliency of these men is astonishing. They were truly “out there” in a vast unknown – thousands of miles from home and any form of assistance. Think of the events of “Apollo 13” who had the help of hundreds of technicians and engineers. Not so for these explorers who navigated strange waters and encountered native islanders who at times were friendly, and at other times less so. They had to rely upon the leadership of Cook for the navigation of the oceans and unknown peoples. Cook’s first expedition lasted close to three years, the second over three years, and the third was also over three years, but in this one Cook was killed in Hawaii. They had to deal with extreme weather conditions, isolation, various health issues from scurvy to STDs. By the second voyage Cook had solved the blight of scurvy on his boat by imposing a special diet on his crew; by contrast the captain of the second boat accompanying Cook on this voyage was less strident at enforcing the diet and several members of the crew had the ill effects of scurvy. This second voyage, this time consisting of two boats, was to explore the Antarctic with sojourns in the winter months to New Zealand and Tahiti. Page 235 Charles Clerke on the Resolution with Cook, December 21, somewhere near Antarctica Very cold. The sleet as it falls freezes to the rigging which, in the first place, makes it exceedingly disagreeable handling and, in the next, makes it so thick with ice that ‘tis with difficulty we render the ropes through the blocks. Later John Mara wrote: “Icicles frequently hung to the noses of the men more than an inch long… the man cased in frozen snow, as if clad in armour, where the running rigging has been so enlarged by frozen sleet as hardly to be grasped by the largest hand.” There were always plentiful negotiations with the different indigenous peoples encountered during these long voyages. Each Island would respond differently, ranging from hostility (the Maori in New Zealand) to indifference (the indigenous of Australia). There was always much trading for the required food and fresh water. Sometimes the boat would be swarmed by hundreds of indigenous people, like at Tahiti, who were curious about these newcomers, and inevitably theft would take place. Until the last voyage Captain Cook was quite successful at dealing with the different native islanders. This third voyage, again with two ships, was to be sadly Cook’s last. The purpose of this third voyage was to explore the possibility of finding a Northwest Passage via the Pacific side. On the way he discovered the islands of Hawaii. Cook then went all the way up the West Coast of North America, entered the Bering Strait, found impenetrable ice fields and headed back to Hawaii. The author speculates that Cook had medical issues – as he was inordinately testy with his crew, was at times indecisive, and most significantly lacked diplomacy and foresight in dealing with native islanders. I also got the feeling that they had over-stayed their welcome in Hawaii, but they were forced to return for repairs when their boat was damaged by a storm. When returning to Hawaii after this Arctic exploration Cook was killed during an encounter onshore. Significantly it would seem that not all the native people of Hawaii were onside with the hostility of the group responsible for the death of Cook and some of his crew members. In this book we are provided with an exhilarating view of this explorer and his exciting life. The man could not sit still! We are also given numerous colourful accounts of those who accompanied him. The maps of his voyages were not particularly good.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Numidica

    Excellent relatively short biography of Cook and his amazing accomplishments. I read this about fifteen years ago, but it made me a fan of Cook, who came up the hard way, and was one of the most skilled cartographers and seamen in history, who incidentally eliminated scurvy as the biggest killer of sailors of transoceanic voyages. A common-sense, practical, hard-working man with a mind for science.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Elyse

    At the end of this book my knees felt wobbly as if I had just gotten off a ship. Maybe it was because I had been sitting too long reading with no breaks. Or maybe it was due to the impact of this story. The chapter near the end describing Captain James Cook's death in Hawaii was hair-raising. Captain Cook of the British Royal Navy really got around. The scope of his travels was amazing. Cook didn't miss much in the Pacific. He sailed south to the edges of Antartica, north to Alaska to try to find At the end of this book my knees felt wobbly as if I had just gotten off a ship. Maybe it was because I had been sitting too long reading with no breaks. Or maybe it was due to the impact of this story. The chapter near the end describing Captain James Cook's death in Hawaii was hair-raising. Captain Cook of the British Royal Navy really got around. The scope of his travels was amazing. Cook didn't miss much in the Pacific. He sailed south to the edges of Antartica, north to Alaska to try to find that elusive Northwest passage, and charted a multitude of places in between. What a change of temperatures! The sailors just took some clothes off, then put them back on as the climate warranted. Plus they had some special coverings for extremely low temperatures that were only brought out on occasion. Captain Cook commanded a total of three exploratory expeditions. The last took place during the time of the American Revolution. The American sailors on board weren't concerned with it. They still thought of themselves as English subjects and the thought of "home" must have felt like a dream world anyway when they were out in such exotic, dangerous locales. The author, Richard Hough, was very competent. For research he went to many of the places discovered by Captain Cook. It amused me that when describing a few locations he couldn't help but writing, "I was here!" I got the feeling that if he had been in the room he would have been compelled to pull out his photo album or iPhone to show me pictures. Otherwise it was a scholarly work. I'm not sure if it was his writing expertise or just the plain story that made me like this book so much. The facts of Captain Cook's over-the-top life would be difficult to make boring.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Alison

    It was the second time I'd read this book, but because it is so fascinating, with so much to absorb—people, places, ships!—I could easily give it a third go. Cook was obviously a man of exceptional intelligence and courage, and his three voyages of discovery were epic. An account of any one of them would easily fill a whole book. Then there were his early navy years, fighting the French, surveying Newfoundland and participating in the capture of Quebec. It's hard to imagine now, living in the th It was the second time I'd read this book, but because it is so fascinating, with so much to absorb—people, places, ships!—I could easily give it a third go. Cook was obviously a man of exceptional intelligence and courage, and his three voyages of discovery were epic. An account of any one of them would easily fill a whole book. Then there were his early navy years, fighting the French, surveying Newfoundland and participating in the capture of Quebec. It's hard to imagine now, living in the third millenium with Google Earth at our fingertips, an age when the world was unknown, when ships literally sailed off the map and saw things they'd never heard of, like icebergs. Cook went places no European ship had been before, visited countless islands, made countless charts and met many different peoples. He was mostly known for his humanity and tolerance to the native people he encountered, and good treatment of his sailors. But his out of character erratic and irrational behaviour on his final voyage, which ended fatally in the Sandwich Islands, has been accounted for by sickness brought on by parasitic infection. I read a large chunk of this book while on a sea voyage myself, aboard a ship (well, boat perhaps) going from Shikinejima in the Izu Islands, to Tokyo. I like to think that perhaps reading these accounts of the high seas and storms Cook and his crew endured, helped inure my stomach to the rough Pacific swells, for while I sat on the deck reading this book, and fancying myself a sailor in another life, many were down below riding it out in their bunks. Apparently a book of short stories recently released by Rodney Hall has one about the death of Captain Cook. Both the theme and the title of the book is Silence, and sure enough, when I came to the chapter in this book about the aftermath of Cook's death it begins: "From the brief awesome silence that followed the death of Cook, and the shock it caused, there developed a faint sigh of fear and lamentation over Kaawaloa, and from the ships, and the boats heading towards them, a kind of hush of disbelief." For many of the sailors, it was like losing a father. There are too many fascinating nuggets of information to write down here. Ask me about them if you're interested, next time we meet! UPDATE: This week in Port Adelaide I had the opportunity to look through a replica of Endeavour, the ship that Cook captained on his first voyage. How small it seemed at first sight, but what a compact sturdy bundle it is on closer inspection. Hard to imagine it carried 94 people, plus two greyhounds belonging to Joseph Banks. Below decks you have to walk about doubled over, and watch your head. The only place it's possible to stand straight is in the Great Cabin where the captain and gentlemen slept. Fortunately for them since Cook and Banks were both over 6 foot. I was especially thrilled to touch a piece of ballast taken from the original Endeavour, and a wooden nail also from the original, that was taken into space and back on NASA's Endeavour.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Alan Hesse

    I couldn't put it down. I followed Cook around the world using Google Earth, picturing myself in each location and seeing it as Cook and his crew must have seen it. Truly fires the imagination, and it's all true. I couldn't put it down. I followed Cook around the world using Google Earth, picturing myself in each location and seeing it as Cook and his crew must have seen it. Truly fires the imagination, and it's all true.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Tim

    It's hard to take a tale as grand as Cook's voyage to the South Seas on the Endeavour and make it anything less than enthralling, but Hough gets off to a good start in this biography. The first five long chapters are a tedious recounting of Cook's life before the Endeavour where no detail is too trivial to include, and the telling is insipid. During one tiresome passage Hough lists seemingly every crew member, even the cook, complete with backgrounds where we are told how interesting the charact It's hard to take a tale as grand as Cook's voyage to the South Seas on the Endeavour and make it anything less than enthralling, but Hough gets off to a good start in this biography. The first five long chapters are a tedious recounting of Cook's life before the Endeavour where no detail is too trivial to include, and the telling is insipid. During one tiresome passage Hough lists seemingly every crew member, even the cook, complete with backgrounds where we are told how interesting the characters are, rather than having it shown to us. One lowly master's mate, Charles Clerke, was described as "colourful and intriguing" due to his limitless anecdotes. By this point I was begging Hough to include one of these anecdotes to liven up the prose. But the book picks up significantly when we get to the heart of Cook's three famous voyages to the South Seas. Each journey is a Boy's Own adventure, with cannibals, first encounters, culture clashes, and unprecedented geographical discoveries. Trekking from jagged polar tundra to soft tropical beaches, they encounter natives who are at once friendly, hostile, promiscuous, thievish, generous and often unpredictable and inscrutable. The newly discovered people are the star of the show, with some of the earliest, most detailed, firsthand accounts of meetings between cultures often vastly separated by manners and technology. The strangest tale of all, one still not fully understood to this day, surrounds his death. On Hawaii, Cook's last discovery, he was mistaken for a god when his arrival matched exactly the prophecy of Lono's return to the islands. He was treated as a deity, and his ship supplied generously, but when he failed to fulfil the prophecy by sailing away, and instead returned for repairs to his damaged ship, the locals turned from worshipful to aggressive. Provoked by trigger happy shipmen, the locals attacked and Cook was killed on the beach, his body taken away. It is a surreal end to a surreal story where even Cook seems to start losing his mind, forcing his men to eat walrus and turning from a gentle man capable of empathising even with cannibals, to one quick to flog the most petty thief and dissenter. This part of Cook's life is where the real fascination lies, and the book-ending can be mostly ignored unless you have a real interest in Cook's family and crew.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Omar Amer

    I decided to read this book a couple of weeks before heading to New Zealand. I knew very little about Captain Cook and his voyage of discovery. I thoroughly enjoyed Richard Hough's work on Cook, it is an incredible piece of work, very well researched and beautifully written. There are lots of place names and people, however, that'll mean I will have to read this two or three times further over the years. I decided to read this book a couple of weeks before heading to New Zealand. I knew very little about Captain Cook and his voyage of discovery. I thoroughly enjoyed Richard Hough's work on Cook, it is an incredible piece of work, very well researched and beautifully written. There are lots of place names and people, however, that'll mean I will have to read this two or three times further over the years.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Sherry

    This is a great book.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Navneet

    Sailed the Seas with Captain Cook, Thrice! This is not just a biography. This is in fact a portal. A portal that will take you from your room in the 21st century to the decks of the Endeavor and later, the Resolution, in the late 18th century. Richard Hough has described so brilliantly the life of this sea faring legend, that it feels like you're circumnavigating the Earth with the man himself. Captain James Cook is a legendary figure. He probably has millions of scholarly articles archived Sailed the Seas with Captain Cook, Thrice! This is not just a biography. This is in fact a portal. A portal that will take you from your room in the 21st century to the decks of the Endeavor and later, the Resolution, in the late 18th century. Richard Hough has described so brilliantly the life of this sea faring legend, that it feels like you're circumnavigating the Earth with the man himself. Captain James Cook is a legendary figure. He probably has millions of scholarly articles archived to his name. I find myself in awe of the author of this book. Because simply reading up the historical data is not enough to write a book of this caliber. Writing this opus must have required heavy research and critical analysis of the available facts, after which he compiled all the information and bound it in such an interesting narrative that it was impossible to put it down. The book covers every important aspect of Cook's life from his early years as a shop apprentice in the small village of Staithes, where he first felt the lure to the sea; to his last days in the island of Hawaii, where an unfortunate series of events led to his early demise. The book not only covers Cook's main three circumnavigation voyages that put him on the map (figuratively, although they did put a lot of islands on the map) but also explores his earliest sea faring days of the Baltic sea and his subsequent enrollment into the Royal Navy. You will start this book with only some or no idea about the man and put it back into the shelf saying goodbye to a guide who showed you the world. Richard Hough delved deep into Cook's character. He described his concern for his crew's well-being, especially for their defense against the deadly scurvy, which was prevalent at that time. The reader also witness the transition of Cook's frame of mind from his first to his last main voyage and get an idea as to what was going on in the Great Sailor's mind. The book is as much about the crew, sailors and supernumeraries that sailed with their captain, as it is about Cook himself. It really is a journey into the vastness of the unknown waters of the pacific ocean that defined Cook's life. How he and his crew stumbled upon numerous undiscovered islands while searching for the speculated 'Terra Australis' or the Great southern Continent is a wondrous historical account in itself. His subsequent discovery and charting of New Zealand and the Eastern coast of Australia (including the great barrier reef) is probably one of the reasons why some may call him an over achiever. The optimum way to best enjoy this book as well as to walk through the portal that I talked about earlier is to keep Google Earth handy with you while you peruse through the pages. This is what I did myself. Throughout his many voyages, Cook visited already discovered yet exotic places and located countless more himself. I located all the major landmarks that he passed through on Google Earth and scrutinized them myself. Looking at the images of these places really brought every aspect of this book alive. Indeed I traveled on the heaving decks of Endeavor and Resolution along with my captain. From the impregnable waters of the Antarctic,to the tropical beauties of Tahiti, to the marvelous coasts of New Zealand and to the snowy wastes of the Arctic...it'll be a journey long and harsh, but it too will be filled with its share of beauty. I'll see you on the other side then. But come quick, we're about to make sail!

  11. 4 out of 5

    E Owen

    Exciting and detailed

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jason

    Thought apparently a fairly obscure book, I found this to be over of the finest accounts of exploration on the high seas that I've yet read - and I've read more than a few. I have encountered mentions of Captain Cook in numerous books, and was glad to find this account if his life and explorations. The account was detailed and well-written, and the pacing never lagged. Thought apparently a fairly obscure book, I found this to be over of the finest accounts of exploration on the high seas that I've yet read - and I've read more than a few. I have encountered mentions of Captain Cook in numerous books, and was glad to find this account if his life and explorations. The account was detailed and well-written, and the pacing never lagged.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Pilar

    I liked it because I think it is a well-documented/researched biography of a 18th century explorer-navigator-cartographer, James Cook, written by 20th century Richard Hough, a historian specializing in naval history, with very detailed descriptions/accounts of persons, events and places. I do not like the European colonialist society, with its assumption of its superiority towards the tribal societies it describes. But I do not like either the patriarchal social system of these tribal groups. In I liked it because I think it is a well-documented/researched biography of a 18th century explorer-navigator-cartographer, James Cook, written by 20th century Richard Hough, a historian specializing in naval history, with very detailed descriptions/accounts of persons, events and places. I do not like the European colonialist society, with its assumption of its superiority towards the tribal societies it describes. But I do not like either the patriarchal social system of these tribal groups. In fact, both types of male-dominated societies show ambition, desire of power, violence and oppression of women :(

  14. 5 out of 5

    Neil Brennan

    Exceptionally dry and old-fashioned

  15. 5 out of 5

    Heather

    Growing up in Hawaii I heard a lot about Captain Cook and his journeys and influence in my history classes. I've been to the place he died on the Big Island of Hawaii, but it was while I was visiting Anchorage, Alaska that I decided I needed to read a biography of Captain Cook. His travels were extensive. I'm glad I finally read a biography, but I wish this book had more maps and helped to outline and draw you into the relationships and people a little bit better. His life is fascinating, but I Growing up in Hawaii I heard a lot about Captain Cook and his journeys and influence in my history classes. I've been to the place he died on the Big Island of Hawaii, but it was while I was visiting Anchorage, Alaska that I decided I needed to read a biography of Captain Cook. His travels were extensive. I'm glad I finally read a biography, but I wish this book had more maps and helped to outline and draw you into the relationships and people a little bit better. His life is fascinating, but I had a hard time getting through this book. I may look for another. A few things that I found interesting include how well he did with his crew in avoiding scurvy, but eating correctly. I also thought the descriptions of their encounters with the natives were interesting. It's hard to imagine the life he led - with so many years away from his family and at sea, but he saw so many parts of the world it's quite remarkable. An interesting life that influenced many others! Here are a few quotes that I liked: "Besides being 'thoroughly equipped,' Cook exhibited an entirely new and refreshingly civilised attitude towards the natives of the lands he exposed to public view of the first time. To the Polynesians and Melanesians, the Aborigines of New Holland and Van Diemen's Land, the Indians of Vancouver and the Eskimos of Alaska, he presented the most tolerant aspect of Western man. He might, and did, claim their land for King George III, but those were his instructions, and in the context of his time his behavior and attitudes were remarkable for their gentleness and understanding. He was, in the judgment of Fanny Burney, whose brother sailed with Cook, 'the most moderate, humane, and gentle circumnavigator that ever went upon discoveries (p. 2).'" "He had no knowledge of what his life would be like, only that it must be different from his old occupation. He was a young man who took things as they came and was ready for what life held for him. He also possessed the twin characteristics which would serve him well throughout his life - decisiveness and self-confidence (p. 4)." "We landed at the place we left overnight, when about a hundred of the natives, all armed, came down on the opposite side of the river and drew themselves up in lines. Then with a regular jump from left to right and the reverse, they brandished their weapons, distorted their mouths, lolling up their tongues and turning up the whites of their eyes, the whole accompanied with a strong hoarse song, calculated in my opinion to cheer each other and intimidate their enemies, and may be called with propriety a dancing war song. It lasted three or four minutes (p. 116)." "We can do no better today, except that we know what vast distances the Polynesians could sail, guided by the stars and the immense clouds that hang over these volcanic islands and sometimes identifiable for hundreds of miles: New Zealand to Tahiti is about 2,500 miles, the same distance as from Tahiti to Hawaii, or, eastwards to Easter Island; while the Tasman Sea between New Zealand and New South Wales is a mere 1,800 miles at its narrowest point (p. 124)." "'We were at this period many thousand leagues from our native land, and on a barbarous coast where, if the ship were wrecked and we had escaped the perils of the sea, we should have fallen into the rapacious hands of savages (p. 147).'" "The greeting, the embraces, the first exchange of words after three years' absence can only be imagined. No doubt the two elder boys were at home, aged seven and eight, bursting with questions and probably forgetful of the sad news Elizabeth had for her husband. For their young brother Joseph had died nearly three years earlier at the age of three months when his father had only reached Madeira. Cook had just known him as a little wrinkled infant in his cot. But his beloved daughter Elizabeth, named after her mother, he had known for over a year and could remember her crawling about the floors of the house. She had died only recently, while the Endeavour had been beating her way north from the Cape. No matter that Cook himself had lost so many brothers and sisters, these two deaths were hard to bear (p. 176)." "Fresh fruits, vegetables, meat and fish were nearly always welcome, but many of the antiscorbutics, like sauerkraut, were loathed. Cook was unmoved by the tastes of his men. He simply imposed these foods on them under the threat of punishment (p. 199)." "His conclusion which followed effectively put an end to the centuries of speculation, myth-making and even map-making which had amused, vexed, puzzled and infuriated geographers since classical Greek times when the world was known to be round, and renewed in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries with the voyages of Vasco da Gama and Ferdinand Magellan, who confirmed the earliest belief. Cook continued his thesis: 'The greatest part of this Southern Continent (supposing there is one) must lie with the Polar Circle where the sea is so pestered with ice that the land is thereby inaccessible. The risk on runs in exploring a coast in these unknown and icy seas, is so very great, that I can be bold to say that no man will ever venture [by sea] farther than I have done, and that the lands which may lie to the south will never be explored (p. 253).'" "Cook claimed no credit for devising the diet which prevented scurvy; and others had experimented successfully with antiscorbutics before him. But his voyages were of such duration and distance, and of such world-wide fame, that it was now only a matter of time before every maritime nation followed his example. How many seaman's lives were saved as a result is incalculable. But the achievement was one of seafaring's great landmarks (p. 267)." "British curiosity and ambitions now pointed towards the North rather than the South Pacific. They were not new and they were specific. Nor were they influenced by the revolution in the colonies of North America. It was, no less, the discovery and exploitation of a north-west passage between Canada and the pole, linking the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. A short route to the trade and riches of the East avoiding the two capes, Horn and Good Hope, would be of priceless value, so valuable that a prize of 20,000 pounds, to be shared among the ship's company, was offered (p. 268)." "There is a memorial to Cook on the volcanic rocks where he fell. It is accurately placed close to the water and thus underlines the fact that by walking at his usual long-legged pace he could have reached the water, been dragged into the pinnace and have escaped death. A number of eyewitnesses testified that he sauntered rather than walked and appeared deliberately to challenge the Hawaiian warriors to attack him, while at the same time taking the precaution of placing his hands over his neck (p. 362)."

  16. 5 out of 5

    Trevor Kew

    This is an excellent biography of Cook, birth to death, one of those great non-fiction books that combines an eye for fascinating detail (walrus steaks, etc.) with a clear framework of the "big historical picture." While I knew the broad strokes of Cook's achievements, I had no idea about many of the "minor players" in his story, fascinating historical personages such as Joseph Banks, the foppish botanist responsible for the glory of Kew Gardens, and William Bligh, later commander of the ill-fate This is an excellent biography of Cook, birth to death, one of those great non-fiction books that combines an eye for fascinating detail (walrus steaks, etc.) with a clear framework of the "big historical picture." While I knew the broad strokes of Cook's achievements, I had no idea about many of the "minor players" in his story, fascinating historical personages such as Joseph Banks, the foppish botanist responsible for the glory of Kew Gardens, and William Bligh, later commander of the ill-fated Bounty. Many of the scenes in New Zealand and Polynesia in this book are rendered with great detail and nuance. One can really sense what a strange instance of societal contact this was (especially that islands so far apart all spoke similar languages), considering which it is quite surprising how quickly the two cultures engaged in trade (not that there weren't some very unpleasant violent episodes too...). I was a bit disappointed in the lack of attention paid to Cook's North American adventures on his third voyage given that I grew up on the West Coast of Canada, but this was understandable, given their relative brevity (months and months!) and the length of the book! Another stunning section of the book is the journey into Antarctic waters (the existence of the continent still being a matter of conjecture at this point in time). Hough describes this voyage with such ghostly and otherworldly language; you can almost picture the lonely ships wandering between "ice islands" in the murky mists, but (ideally) can't quite grasp how alien it must have been.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Matt Whittingham

    An engrossing telling of Cooks life and the three epic voyages to the Pacific. What makes the story so vivid, are the richness of the first hand accounts, drawn from Naval records, correspondence, and the journals of the sailors and Cook himself. Up until the last voyage, I was fully sympathetic to Cook, and his achievements in navigation, fortitude and leadership. By and large his treatment of sometimes hostile inhabitants, is for the time and circumstance, well judged. The third voyage is a ver An engrossing telling of Cooks life and the three epic voyages to the Pacific. What makes the story so vivid, are the richness of the first hand accounts, drawn from Naval records, correspondence, and the journals of the sailors and Cook himself. Up until the last voyage, I was fully sympathetic to Cook, and his achievements in navigation, fortitude and leadership. By and large his treatment of sometimes hostile inhabitants, is for the time and circumstance, well judged. The third voyage is a very different kettle of fish. Seemingly cursed from the beginning, with a defective ship, Cook's frequent mood swings, and a treatment of local indigenous tribes that was often barbaric, with cutting off ears one particularly gruesome punishment for any local unfortunate caught pilfering. Part of this out of character behaviour is put down to perhaps a parasitical worm that may have inflicted Cook, but this seems largely conjecture. Matters come to a head off Hawaii. When the end comes, it is brutal. Richard Hough captures the growing menace of the Hawaiians, that eventually boils over into violence, and the end for Cook, left abandoned on the shoreline, killed and mutilated. A bloody, ignoble end for one of the greatest of British navigators.

  18. 5 out of 5

    JLA

    A solid biography although there was a question if this was a bio on Cpt James Cook or Joseph Banks during the first third of the book. Cook eventually won out in his biography (go figure.) Largest issue with Richard Hough's narrative is he suffers from the two fold malaise of many historians. The first being the use of sarcasm born from the benefit of 2020 historical hindsight (gross). Thankfully that was sparingly used. The second was inserting himself into the historical narrative. The transg A solid biography although there was a question if this was a bio on Cpt James Cook or Joseph Banks during the first third of the book. Cook eventually won out in his biography (go figure.) Largest issue with Richard Hough's narrative is he suffers from the two fold malaise of many historians. The first being the use of sarcasm born from the benefit of 2020 historical hindsight (gross). Thankfully that was sparingly used. The second was inserting himself into the historical narrative. The transgressions were begining to pile up to brush against the underbelly of annoyance. Otherwise, solid and informative book that is worth the read.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Kelli

    What an under taking this book is. I had only a couple years ago heard about James Cook as the one who discovered many parts of Australia. But now seeing he went to North America, the pacific islands and the arctic. My gosh he was busy. And all this in the 1700s. Reading the first part of this book, imaging what it was like to be his wife Elizabeth, having six kids in-between each of his long journeys, being gone for 2 years and coming back and one or more of his children had passed away. He was What an under taking this book is. I had only a couple years ago heard about James Cook as the one who discovered many parts of Australia. But now seeing he went to North America, the pacific islands and the arctic. My gosh he was busy. And all this in the 1700s. Reading the first part of this book, imaging what it was like to be his wife Elizabeth, having six kids in-between each of his long journeys, being gone for 2 years and coming back and one or more of his children had passed away. He was gone more than he was home. The helplessness and risk of ship travel in the 1700s is intense. I thought the logs from Banks, Parkinson and Cook very interesting. It’s crazy to think all they saw. I found some of it sad, reading it. Knowing what Captain Cook gave up, not being with his family, months and months at sea. What his wife gave up. So sad that she outlived ALL 6 of the children she gave birth too. What any of the seaman gave up in their lives. It’s a fascinating thought. The craving of adventure that leads them to step aboard. I found the sailing to island to island in the middle of the book fascinating. Visiting the Maoris and Polynesian islands. Just imaging being one of the first to come back their is a crazy thought. The last quarter of the book is insane. Dealing with cannibalism reports and the risks of infecting their whole ship with disease. All this was happening only 300/200 years ago, which is still more shocking to me. I would heavily recommend this to anyone. I believe reading history like this is so important, to remember how far we have come and how far we could go in the future. Knowing what it took to discover the bottom half of the world is worth while. The book itself is researched and written very well.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Tim Franks

    I would rate this book around a 3.5. It is worth the read for the lead up and the ending battle for Captain Cook's life with the natives. It has a lot of nautical terms and gets bogged down at times with certain scenes that are not engaging. It was interesting to learn about the faith of his wife Elizabeth despite the circumstances of losing her kids and husband within just a few years apart. I would rate this book around a 3.5. It is worth the read for the lead up and the ending battle for Captain Cook's life with the natives. It has a lot of nautical terms and gets bogged down at times with certain scenes that are not engaging. It was interesting to learn about the faith of his wife Elizabeth despite the circumstances of losing her kids and husband within just a few years apart.

  21. 5 out of 5

    S. Miles Lotman

    In the year 2014 we take geography for granted. For the right amount of money, Mt. Everest can be attempted, kayaking around the collapsing icebergs of Anartctica is a possibility, and any place in the world, no matter how remote, is a few hundred miles away from the nearest airport. Hard to appreciate then the courage of explorers who risked their lives to map out the unknown reaches of our planet. When you left port on a ship, farewelling land, you were truly saying goodbye to life as you knew In the year 2014 we take geography for granted. For the right amount of money, Mt. Everest can be attempted, kayaking around the collapsing icebergs of Anartctica is a possibility, and any place in the world, no matter how remote, is a few hundred miles away from the nearest airport. Hard to appreciate then the courage of explorers who risked their lives to map out the unknown reaches of our planet. When you left port on a ship, farewelling land, you were truly saying goodbye to life as you knew it, conveniences, friends, your loved ones, for perhaps years on end. The world was put together in piecemeal-- kingdoms hoarding resources and knowledge of shoals and beneficial winds often published false maps to deter foreign explorers from safely accessing these “discovered” lands. Thus proper understanding of the earth's dimensions was a slipshod process that took centuries. For context, it wasn't another 250 years after Magellan's crew first circumnavigated the globe that Australia's existence was confirmed. A by-his-bootstraps lad from rural Yorkshire didn't discover the Australian continent (that was a Dutchman named Abel Tasman), but he was the first one to visit and map its eastern coast, one of many achievements in a legendary career. Before reading Richard Hough's biography Captain James Cook, I long imagined the famed explorer as an intrepid British pirate in the vein of Sir Walter Raleigh. But his life story is one of sobriety, competence, steadfastness, loyalty, ingenuity, leadership and, most especially, level-headedness. Born into a family of impoverished laborers, Cook did not even see the ocean until he was seventeen years old (a bit of a late bloomer). By sheer hard work, good sense, and careful ambition, Cook rose from a sailor on local shipping lanes to working with the Royal Navy surveying the St. Lawrence River, distinguishing himself as a cartographer in the Seven Years War. He knew the right contacts in the government and they trusted him enough on a major voyage to the southern seas. Cook sailed more nautical miles than any man in history-- visiting nearly every far-off fairy tale tropical port you've ever heard of and many you haen't, spending considerable time in Tahiti, New Zealand, as well as being the first explorer in the Antarctic Sea. His greatest contribution to cartography was proving conclusively what did not exist, that is a great southern landmass (beyond Australia in tropical or sub-tropical latitudes) and a Northwest Passage between the Bering Sea and the Atlantic Ocean (which entailed much fruitless sailing in bad weather in very cold climates). These were long trips where it was unlikely to replenish food and water resources. The greatest threat to sailors in the explorations prior to Cook was scurvy, a lack of Vitamin C caused by a restricted diet. Cook was the first explorer to discover corollaries between nutritional habits and good health. As much as his surveying added to human knowledge, it was his advocation of sensible dieting for sailors that was just as strong as a legacy to the annals of exploration (but it wasn't easy getting sailors to put down their daily dose of saurkraut). Unlike so many explorers who had an us-and-them attitude to indigenous tribes, Cook did not refer to the native peoples he encountered as savages but as human beings. From the Inuits in Alaska to the Polynesians of Tahiti to the naked Fuegians in the Magellan Strait, Cook showed restraint, when so many in his line of work slaughtered, captured, and indentured natives under some ludicrous proselytizing aegis. In spite of all his years at sea, beyond a few minor islands in the remote Pacific, his only famous discovery was the Hawaiian Islands, which is where Cook met his end. This was his third voyage and he was evidently exhausted and possibly ailing with some stomach virus that affected his judgment, as well as his temper. Like the Aztec mythology predicting the arrival of a white-skinned god, so did a legend in Hawaii's Kealakekua Bay predict a deity coming in a great ship to the shores of the local tribe. Cook's visit was propitious at first, but evolved into chaos, leading to violent skirmishes between Cook's men and the islanders. Cook himself was torn to pieces and it was only through careful negotiations with the local priests were they able to recover most of his bodily remnants. The catastrophe and Cook's demise in Hawaii is gripping narrative, especially as I was coming into the story for the first time knowing little of Cook's heroics. The writing comes to life, whereas in most of the biography, Hough's prose is as sober as his subject. (Cook mostly abstained from excess, and while his men took native paramours, Cook took on a moralizing posture to these dalliances-- sailors going AWOL to lead a Gaughinian existence in Tropical Paradise were flogged ten times for their improprieties.) Nevertheless one likes and cares about Cook and sees the tragedy in his premature passing in ways the vicarious explorer could never sympathize with Columbus and Magellan, who are more famous, when they should be just infamous. But this is hardly an exception; the prism through which popular history reflects deeds done doesn't have a sensible filtering system.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Ian Billick

    Thoroughly enjoyable. Some lovely passages. Fascinating how cook changed on the third voyage. The perils of being an unchallengeable leader too long! Loss of self control that is all too common as people rise the ranks? Mental health issues?

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jo Cleobury

    Absolutely marvellous. This has got to be one of the best history books that I have ever read. Richard Hough brought Captain Cook alive to me. I now cannot wait to visit Whitby. I knew next to nothing about Captain Cook, now I greatly admire him.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Dixie

    This was very interesting but also one of the most dense books I have ever read. No detail goes unrecorded, which often added to the interest but also meant I read through this at a much slower pace than I usually do. Definitely tells all you would ever wish to know about Captain Cook. What a life.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Ben

    Epic Book, really interesting and well written, lots of dry material but not to dry to read it. Discovered Hawaii and then headed north to find the North West Passage, and then returned and died on Valentines Day.

  26. 5 out of 5

    John Bohnert

    I learned a great deal about James Cook reading this informative biography. He was a man deserving of admiration.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Dan

    Important and as far as I can tell thorough and accurate. It is a narrative history that will acquaint you with the salient facts, but without any great narrative flair.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Alex Koller

    You couldn't make this up! Gripping from (almost) the beginning till the end. You couldn't make this up! Gripping from (almost) the beginning till the end.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Cade

    This book was a bit slow getting started (I almost stopped reading after the first two sections were just about the distant genealogy of his parents), but the book improved considerably once it finally made it to his circumnavigational voyages. In the end, I found this book very interesting and well worth the read. This book does a fair job of trying to remind you how truly monumental Cook's accomplishments were for his time. I kept my generally uninterested family entertained with a steady strea This book was a bit slow getting started (I almost stopped reading after the first two sections were just about the distant genealogy of his parents), but the book improved considerably once it finally made it to his circumnavigational voyages. In the end, I found this book very interesting and well worth the read. This book does a fair job of trying to remind you how truly monumental Cook's accomplishments were for his time. I kept my generally uninterested family entertained with a steady stream of Captain Cook trivia from this book that even they had to begrudgingly admit was interesting. The one major drawback of this book is that it has very poor maps. The main global map showing the paths of his three major voyages is extremely hard to read, and I had to keep looking up a map on the internet to keep track. For a book about navigation, this is a difficult pill to swallow. Also, there are a couple of Cook's maps printed in the book, but it would have been much more interesting to have had many more maps comparing Cook's cartography to modern maps.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Derek White

    I've read lots of these types of biographies and I found this one to be quite dry and academic. The best books in this genre are authored by writers who know how to weave a great, involving, story. One author makes it dry, another makes it come alive. I didn't feel much passion for the storytelling in this account. It came across as more of a "he did this, then he did this, then he did this" sort of a book. It would have been helpful for the author to have included the modern-day names of many o I've read lots of these types of biographies and I found this one to be quite dry and academic. The best books in this genre are authored by writers who know how to weave a great, involving, story. One author makes it dry, another makes it come alive. I didn't feel much passion for the storytelling in this account. It came across as more of a "he did this, then he did this, then he did this" sort of a book. It would have been helpful for the author to have included the modern-day names of many of the places Cook visited--and there were many times when I was confused about the places they were travelling back and forth to. I found myself wondering if it was New Zealand, Tonga, Tahiti, etc. There was just a general lack of clarity. I was looking forward to reading an account about Cook and I'm now disappointed that I had to wade through this one first. I'm not sure if I'll ever have the energy to wade through even a better one after this experience.

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