Blue Latitudes is half history and half travelog as author Tony Horwitz travels the world in the footsteps of Captain Cook. Horwitz is a great writer and I really enjoyed the way he cut back and forth between the historical details of Cook’s travels and his own modern day travels investigating Cook’s legacy. The balance was well struck and both stories were interesting, though the history was perhaps a little more interesting.
Horwitz is also a funny writer with a knack for finding colorful people to interview on the subject of Cook. On paper this sounds right up my ally and I did mostly enjoy the book but there is a danger with this sort of humor that it starts to feel like it’s coming at the expense of the people in question. While Horwitz tries to stay objective he frequently comes across as judgmental. Further, at times his perspective is overly cynical for my tastes. Granted, it’s hard not to be cynical when looking at the effects of Westernization and modernization on precolonial societies but Hortwitz is almost universally negative about the places he visits. Tahiti is a shithole, Samoa is corrupt and hostile to westerners, Hawaii is overrun by clueless kayakers. As someone who has spent time in the South Pacific and found the experience overwhelmingly positive, I can’t help feeling that Horwitz is seeing the world through shit-colored glasses. Indeed, Horwitz seems to exhibit the same traits he takes Australians to task for — Cynicism and an inability to take anything seriously.
Despite these reservations, I really enjoyed the book. Both the subject matter and the issues Horwitz raises are fascinating.