on 30 December 2011
I have stlyistic and typographical complaints about this book which make me think it was poorly edited.
Even worse, although it is clear from the comprehensive list of references provided that the author researched thoroughly when preparing this book, the work does not seem to have been edited or proofread by somebody familiar either with seafaring in general or with Cook's voyages in particular.
Thus, on page 102 we have Endeavour travelling at 140 knots (nautical miles per hour) rather than sailing 140 nautical miles in a day; on p.82 we have Bougainville travelling 'due east' instead of due west to reach the Great Barrier Reef from the New Hebrides; on p.141 Cook was 'driven farther to the north than he intended, to 38N' when approaching the south-eastern shores of Australia; this should read '38S' - did anyone look at a map?
On p.140 the author writes: 'on 27 March, they came into safe anchorage at Queen Charlotte Sound.' No, Endeavour anchored in Admiralty Bay after circumnavigating South Island, New Zealand, and did not re-enter Queen Charlotte Sound on this occasion.
In my own exploration of Cook's voyages I have, so far, only covered the first voyage. I am reluctant to read more of this book until I know the facts as stated by Cook in his own journals; I don't trust this work to report the subsequent voyages accurately.
As mentioned above, the book is littered with typographical errors and is flawed stylistically.
On p.72 we have Hernando de Grijalva sailing in the 'low altitudes of the South Pacific' (I thought all ocean-going ships sailed at low altitude, namely at sea level - could he mean 'low latitudes'?); on p.81, Bougainville 'returned home to Francein 1760' (sic); on p.93: 'On 30 July Cook 1768 received his instructions'.
Elsewhere we have 'the the' and 'one one eighth'; it's all very sloppy and disappointing in an expensive hardback.
In Strunk and White's The Elements of Style, guideline 14 on the topic of avoiding fancy words advises: 'Do not be tempted by a twenty-dollar word when there is a ten-center handy, ready and able'.
The editor of Captain Cook was happy to let through the following words which I'm pretty sure nobody uses or at least they are used so rarely that the author deploying them, however marvellously well educated he is, fails to communicate his meaning clearly:
fuliginous, lucubration, turbillion, acidulous, irruption, lubricious, minatory, nugatory, congeries, and many more.
This is a book in which sharks are 'pelagic predators' and for some reason able-bodied seamen become 'matelots' (en passant, don't get me started on the use of foreign words and phrases). The author's cleverness is beyond doubt; I feel he needs to try less hard to demonstrate his erudition by making a better choice of words. A spade is an excavatory implement, but it's still a spade.
I've given this review three stars rather than fewer because, despite its flaws, it still tells a gripping story in which Cook the man rises above the failings of the book.
on 7 May 2012
Captain James Cook has had many accounts written of his voyages, including his own. The most recent that I have found is by Richard Hough (1993), which provides a straightforward, enjoyable, and readable account of his life. This new book by Frank McLynn reveals the author as a thorough academic with a gift for writing dense prose using obscure and sometimes archaic words. I recommend reading on a Kindle, having had the new experience of using its excellent dictionary to explain words at the probable rate of one per page. This obviously slowed down the flow, although inevitably extending my vocabulary. I would prefer that the book was reedited into everyday English usage. I wonder whether the object of this biography is more to impress the academic community than for general readership. I read it on a long journey across the Pacific, visiting some of the places mentioned, and I could not finish it even then. It included hundreds of references which are only likely to be followed up by another keen historian.
However, finish it I did and I think it has enhanced my knowledge of Cook, his crew the islanders and their civilisations. The earlier life was covered in satisfying detail, but the end was an anticlimax with little to put the voyages into context with later events in the naval and political history of Great Britain.
on 13 November 2013
Having visited Australia I set about learning of Captain Cook's voyages with anticipation. This book has proved heavy going, principally due to the author's excessive use of obscure words and heavy language. I suspect this is more about displaying the author's knowledge and education than communication of Cook's exploits to a 21st century readership. So, for example page 144 "From these Delphic and sibylline utterances, certain things seem reasonably clear.". Well, not to me. Some parts are good reading. Huge reference list which must be of interest only to similarly exalted scholars. I agree with the other reviewers' comments. This is hard work and I give up at Chapter 9, and will possibly seek out the much quoted biography of Beaglehole.