Thursday, November 28, 2013

Cook by Rob Mundle ABC Books (Harper Collins inprint)

Captain James Cook is one of the greatest maritime explorers of all time -- only the acclaimed fifteenth-century explorers, Christopher Columbus and Vasco da Gama, can stand with him. Bestselling author of FATAL STORM, BLIGH and FLINDERS, Rob Mundle explores the life and travels of James Cook in a major new biography for lovers of adventure and the romance of sail. Over three remarkable voyages of discovery into the Pacific in the latter part of the eighteenth century, Cook unravelled the centuries-old mystery surrounding the existence of the great south land, Terra Australis Incognita; became the first explorer to circumnavigate New Zealand and prove it comprised two main islands; discovered the Hawaiian Islands; and much more. Cook was a man who pursued a teenager's dream that evolved from a chance encounter in a small seafront village on the east coast of England. It was a dream that became a reality and transported him to legendary status among all who mapped the world, on land and sea. Through the combination of hard-won skills as a seafarer, the talents of a self-taught navigator and surveyor, and an exceptional ability to lead and care for his men, Cook contributed to changing the shape of the world map more than anyone else. I think I've seen about 25 biographies of James Cook, in recent days. Nothing of course could ever touch Tim Beaglehole's massive 3 volume history, but then who has time to read that these days. Mundle's book - well, there's a clue in the cover, which looks like a 1970 School text book cover, with it's noble portrait of th man himself. Then there's a few facts. Mundle is a nautical author. He's written of the Sydney Harbour yacht race and about Bligh, who sailed with Cook and Mathew Flinders who was the first to circumnavigate Australia. So he's looking at Cook from an adventurer's point of view, from a sailors view. It spends the first chapters about his early days, as the son of a Yorkshire labourer and his part in charting alliances under campaigns against the French and mostly it's about the three great voyages - The Endeavour's trip charting the course of the Transit of Venus for the Royal Society (which discovered Australia and New Zealand) and then the two shorter trips ending in his death in Hawaii. All through we get no sense of whom he really is. This is more about the mechanical, historic figure. Only during the last village, which Mundle talks of how he flogs his me, more than his usual disciplinarian treatments and animosities towards the 'natives'. It's less a character study than the adventures. There are exciting tales, like when the Endeavour is blown on to rocks, headed into storm and stuck on the Great Barrier Reef. The colour plates and the sailor's glossary is excellent. This is a great first reader of Cook. Any 12 -18 year old interested in this man would do well to start here.

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