Jean Lee Latham Mary M. Burns - Essay

Mary M. Burns

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Thoroughly conversant with the equipment, traditions, and living conditions aboard eighteenth-century sailing ships, the author has written Cook's story [in Far Voyager: The Story of James Cook] with the flair and pace of a first-rate adventure yarn set against the background of the Seven Years' War and the American Revolution…. His metamorphosis from seaman to commissioned officer in His Majesty's Navy is substantial material in itself for an engrossing narrative. His exploits as one of history's greatest navigators and explorers add dramatic tension as well. Today's young reader for whom the world has already become too small should find it illuminating to consider an era—merely two centuries ago—when much of the Pacific Ocean was unknown. By demonstrating the magnitude of Cook's accomplishments during his Pacific explorations, the biography presents him as no casual thrill seeker but rather as a meticulous and dedicated scientist. Respected for his knowledge and humanitarianism, Cook nevertheless was separated by his visionary genius from ordinary friendships and the full companionship of his wife and family—a subtheme to which the author gives sympathetic attention. His death in 1779, due in part to the Hawaiians mistaking him for the man-god "Lono," is the stuff of tragedy, and the author makes of it a dramatic yet dignified conclusion to her narrative. (pp. 400-01)

Mary M. Burns, in The Horn Book Magazine (copyright © 1970 by The Horn Book, Inc., Boston), August, 1970.