'FARTHER THAN ANY MAN' Cook's true story fascinates
Although primarily a biography, this book is an engrossing,historically accurate adventure story.
BY MARGARET NERY
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
"Farther Than Any Man, The Rise and fall of Captain James Cook," by Martin Dugard (Washington Square Press, $14).
Martin Dugard takes readers on an oftimes rough and adventuresome armchair voyage as he recounts the exploits of Captain James Cook in his detailed, well-researched book "Farther Than Any Man."
Subtitled "The Rise and Fall of Captain James Cook," the paperback is a biography, a brillantly written story of one of history's foremost explorers - a man tormented by his need for adventure and willing to sacrifice the comforts of home and the love of his wife and family in order to win recognition in England's Royal Navy.
Cook's life as a farm boy was far distant from the life he would eventually lead at sea, where he and his men would have to endure relentless hardships such as cramped living quarters, rampant disease, storms, fires and pent-up emotions that could lead to bloody, often fatal, fights. But Cook wanted to be part of it. Sailing was his passion.
After a decade aboard merchant ships, he had become a true navigator and an expert on currents and depths. However the 26-year-old seaman was willing to throw away years of seniority in order to enlist in the class-structured Royal Navy.
When temporarily land-bound, Cook spent his time charting the surrounding waters and perfecting his charts for publication (his work was so precise that his charts were still used in the 20th Century.) Cook was eventually chosen to serve his country as a seagoing explorer and received his first major assignment as captain of a British ship, the slow-moving Endeavor.
As he began what was to become an epic journey around the globe, Cook wrote in his journal that, "I want to go as far as I think it possible for man to go."
Although Endeavor's voyage was categorized as a scientific expedition, it was in reality an effort to claim uncharted landmasses for the English and to colonize Antarctica, which held promise of great wealth.
Among the astronomers and scientists joining the expedition was Joseph Banks, a playboy-turned-botanist who schemed to take control of the vessel. His efforts were thwarted in part by his stubbornness and by that fact that Cook, with his resolute attitude, attention to detail and compassion, had easily won the respect of his crew.
It was apparent from the onset that Cook had prepared carefully for the adventure in which he would travel over 25,000 miles around the globe at the pace of a brisk walk.
In the Pacific
In 1769 his was the first British ship to sail in Pacific waters. Here the brash farm boy took a fling at unplanned adventure by changing course and sailing due south until bad weather made him turn back toward Tahiti. As the ship reached the tropical island, Cook directed his men to forget carnal pleasures and "treat the citizenry with civility and to cultivate friendships" (instructions that were disregarded).
Cook spent his time learning the language and customs of the natives. As the ship once again set sail and left the island behind, it was obvious that Cook's sex-driven crew took away somethng they would liked to have left behind - venereal disease.
With Antarctica in mind, Cook headed south, but wind and weather made him turn off course, eventually arriving at New Zealand. This became one of Cook's favorite places. Here he charted the coastline.
Cook did not expect a hero's welcome when he returned home despite his many accomplishments: guiding the Endeavour around the world on an unparalleled feat of navigation, discovering a cure for scurvy, charting the coastline of New Zealand, discovering and charting eastern Australia and discovering the Great Barrier Reef.
But his ego was deflated when Banks, because of his blue-blood birth and political connections, was given credit for the success of the mission.
Cook's next circumnavigation voyage was aboard the Resolution, a vessel whose sole purpose was to find Antarctica.
Again he failed in the mission but again he made important discoveries, had his first terrifying encounter with cannibalism and claimed many harbors and lands for the British.
Change of personality
When he finally received recognition from his countrymen for his courageous exploits, his whole personality changed. He became something of an egotist, reveling in the glamorous life.
Unable to resist the lure of a handsome financial reward, Cook again took command of what was now an aging, poorly equipped Resolution, as it set out on an ill-fated voyage to discover the Northwest Passage.
Cook's new sense of self-importance and the loss of his former adventuresome spirit caused Cook to become myopic, cranky and mean. This attitude not only infuriated his crew but eventually lead to his gory demise in the Pacific.
The author went far to authenticate the facts in this fascinating book, and "The Rise and Fall of Captain James Cook" is a spell-binding tale of scientific discoveries, exotic places and strange people, a dramatic seafaring adventure story.