Captain James Cook has the distinction of having been killed and at least
partially eaten by Pacific island cannibals at fifty-one years of age. This
fact should be sufficient to put him in the history books, especially when
preceded by an amazing series of globe crawls that turned what had been
terra incognita into known and conquered land and seaways. Altogether, the
life of Cook is the swashbuckling stuff that boy's tales used to be made of.
Luckily for Tony Horowitz, he seems to have retained his own boyish
enthusiasm well into adulthood, along with a writer's interest in just about
everything, and a guy thing for drinking to excess and attending wet
tee-shirt contests to chase down a good story -- or invent one. For Blue
Latitudes is not just Cook's story, or Tony's story about Cook - it is Tony
on Tony, revealing at every turn his determination to make a book about an
eighteenth-century ship's captain modern, topical, and just plain fun.
So we get to see Horowitz on a replica ship modeled on Cook's Endeavor,
sweating up the masts (though with protective gear) and trying to sleep in
a hammock with fourteen inches of airspace. And that's just the beginning.
Horowitz is following in Cook's wake, eating local foods and puking in local
colors around the globe.
But Cook is ever in sight, despite the mountain of incidentals that Horowitz
heaps on. The son of an English agricultural laborer in a time when to be
born poor was to remain so absent the chance for emigration, Cook rose in
the ranks, showing his character and intelligence in everything he
undertook. Snatches of Cook's own diaries are a piquant spice, written in
unvarnished miserly prose that leaves no room for speculation: "Sleet and
Snow froze to the Rigging as it fell and decorated the whole with icicles.
Our ropes were like wires, Sails like board or plates of metal..."
But perhaps the modern reader must have his meal of facts covered with a
sauce of amusements and distractions. It's fun to go on a good old boy's
romp through Tony's world, but one wonders if Cook would have had much
patience for a book like Blue Latitudes, with its plethora of diversions and
sallies off course. If this is the first book you've read about Captain
Cook, perhaps it will steer you towards the man himself, and his own way of
describing his remarkable journeys. If so, then Blue Latitudes has served a