I was prompted to buy this book after reading 'Endeavour' by Peter Aughton (available from amazon.co.uk) which painted a completely different picture of Cook to what I imagined. After reading 'Captain James Cook' I now realise how the misconception arose - on his last and most famous voyage, he presents a Mr.Hyde personality, completely out of keeping with his previous Dr.Jekyll style of running his ship and dealing with the natives he meets - little wonder the Hawaiians took revenge (in the worst possible way). Interesting too, is the side-study of Bligh, who was already showing signs of despotism and seems to have fostered Cook's decline into cruelty, autocratic rule over his crew and excessively harsh treatment of the natives.
The author poses the possibility that a medical condition precipitated this sudden change of character, but it may also have been early senility, Altzheimer's or dementia brought on by stress - who knows?
The book is full of interesting clips from various people's logs, which show other views of life under Cook's leadership. The main thrust of the book is not that Cook was in the right place at the right time, but that he made such a consummate job of ensuring that the surveys were carried out in a methodical manner, with a healthy crew and sound ship. After all, it was HIS decision on what type of ship to use, what food to keep the crew healthy, how to deal with the natives and his diplomacy that ensured that the first 2 voyages were such a resounding success.
All this is in sharp contrast to the last voyage, where he allowed the shipyard to take liberties with the refitting of his ships, the lack of diplomacy, his cruelty to the natives and his lack of patience with his crew. This only serves to reinforce what an extraordinary leader he had been.
A splendid read which has furthered my interest in history and exploration - more like this please!