Robson, John. Captain Cook’s World. Maps of the Life and Voyages of James Cook R.N. New Zealand: Random House, 2000. 211 pp. 128 maps. ISBN 1861761813.

Literature about Cook’s voyages is quite abundant. While some works are nothing but mere superficial, old-fashioned biographical surveys, some others have already become paradigmatic studies in the field of history of discoveries and discoverers. In this well-planned work, which was meant to reach readers with different academic interests and backgrounds, the life and deeds of illustrious British Captain James Cook (1728-1779) are presented in a very original, innovative format. Although Cook’s maps and drawings have already been published, John Robson realized how difficult it is to access the most accurate editions that offer relevant cartographic data, and not even those editions offer detailed information. Out of his personal passion for both history and cartography, Robson meticulously transferred every little piece of historical data into this collection of easy-to-read maps, thus producing an accessible, affordable source where readers can track events in Cook’s life through a very detailed graphical approach.

As expected, the work is organized in five sections ordered chronologically. Each section is introduced by an explanatory text that provides the necessary historical background before one can follow the events directly on the maps. The first section covers from Cook’s childhood and his early days in the Royal Navy, up to the launch of the first of his three voyages around the world, and includes twenty-four maps. Totaling 103 maps, the next three sections cover in great detail each of Cook’s voyages, accompanied also by the explanatory text. In the chapter that closes his work, the author does not forget that Cook’s name and those of some of the ships he commanded have transcended themselves along the years. Thus, the author closes the contents of his book by providing some curious examples of the many places that have been named after them, such as a crater in the moon named “Cook Crater” or the space shuttle “Endeavour.” The book includes a gazetteer; a useful tool that provides directions to locate in the maps all places mentioned by Robson. Explanatory footnotes in this book have been replaced by text directly placed on maps. However, a larger bibliography, which in this book is notably short for a scholarly work, could have helped the reader to expand his knowledge beyond the limits imposed by the information contained in the book.

As a work intended to reach different kinds of readers, the book definitely serves its purpose. Despite the bibliographical shortage it still represents an excellent contribution to the corpus of scholarly literature about Captain James Cook.

Enrique J. Porrua
Texas Tech University

Society for the History of Discoveries home page

All Original Material, Translations and HTML Coding Copyright © The Society for the History of Discoveries 1999 - 2008. All rights reserved.