Reviews for The Wide Wide Sea

by Hampton Sides

Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

An acclaimed historian takes to the sea in this rousing tale of exploration. Sides, author of Hellhound on His Trail and Ghost Soldiers, writes that James Cook’s (1728-1779) voyages “form a morally complicated tale that has left a lot for modern sensibilities to unravel and critique.” The author seeks to “describe what happened during his consequential, ambitious, and ultimately tragic final voyage,” with 180 people on two ships—the Discovery and the Resolution, captained by William Bligh—that embarked in July 1776. Along with a wide range of animals, leaving with Cook was Mai, a Tahitian whose “life story offered a poignant allegory of first contact between England and the people of Oceania.” The plan was to sail around the Cape of Good Hope, drop Mai off on an island, claim any new territories, and search for the Northwest Passage. Fortunately, Capt. Charles Clerke, released from debtor’s prison, joined the Discovery in Plymouth. Crew members were noticing changes in Cook’s demeanor. They reached Cape Town in October, rested, and repaired and restocked. After Clerke arrived, they set off in November. In late January, they reached Tasmania and then New Zealand. In August, they arrived at Tahiti, the “place of their wildest desires,” and removed most of the animals the king gave them. When a Native islander stole a goat, Cook began destroying canoes and setting fires on Moorea, “punishing the many for the misdeeds of an individual.” In December, Cook headed north, eventually reaching America’s western coast, Alaska, Asia, and the icy Arctic Circle, making contact with many Natives. His voyage ended in Hawaii when he was killed by angry Natives in a grisly fight. Sides draws on numerous contemporaneous sources to create a fascinating, immersive adventure story featuring just the right amount of historical context. Lusciously detailed and insightful history, masterfully told. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.