Tony Horwitz, Blue Latitudes

Does the world need more Bill Bryson? Yes, and even Robert Redford thinks so.

Does the world need more Bill Brysons, though? A trickier question, even if an awfully large number of travel writers demonstrate their faith via cover versions, but the truth of the matter is that the Bryson playbook is awfully effective. More than that, a good enough writer can reveal that the Bryson playbook is a genre, adaptable in the hands of anyone who picks it up -- assuming the possession of talent, enthusiasm, and friends who drink startling amounts of alcohol.

And so I'll delay no longer, and say that Bryson be damned, Tony Horwitz's book Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before is an excellent read. His attention to detail is genuinely impressive, offering considerable lessons in the life and travels of Cook, and even contributing to Cook scholarship through persisting as long as he can to seek DNA tests on an arrow purportedly made from one of Cook's leg bones. Horwitz's friend and regular travelling companion Roger, too, drinks enough and admires crumpet* consistently enough to qualify as a force of nature himself, in a role perhaps custom-made for a post-Bryson Nick Nolte.

But seriously: Horwitz does a great job of illuminating the complexity of Cook, a man who recognized and regretted what colonization was going to do to the peoples he was meeting, but kept right on mapping the coastlines and enforcing discipline on his ships. He meets all sorts of interesting folk on his journeys, Horwitz does, and though it's a little odd that the most fully drawn characters are the book's comparatively few Brits or ex-Brits, it's also appropriate for the full Captain Cook experience.

Good stuff -- even if it took me much, much longer to get through than I expected.

* "Crumpet" here doesn't mean crumpet. But you already knew that.


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