Blue Latitudes
Tony Horwitz
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Buy *Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before* online

Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before
Tony Horwitz
Henry Holt & Co.
496 pages
October 2002
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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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 good purpose.

© 2003 by Barbara Bamberger Scott for Curled Up With a Good Book

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