* Indicates a book that appears in our feature "Around the World in 80+ Books" published in the April 2002 issue of National Geographic Traveler.
Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook has Gone Before, by Tony Horwitz (2002). In 1768, Captain James Cook set out from England to explore the vast Pacific Ocean. As he noted in his journal, "Ambition leads me not only farther than any other man has been before, but as far as I think it possible for man to go." Over 200 years later, author Horwitz boards a replica of Cook's Endeavour and lives like an 18th-century sailor to follow the path of the Pacific's most famous explorer. From the Maoris of New Zealand to the king of Tonga, Horwitz combines Cook's biography with his own humorous travel narrative as he retraces the steps of an early quest.
*Full Circle: One Man's Journey by Air, Train, Boat and Occasionally Very Sore Feet Around the 50,000 Miles of the Pacific Rim, by Michael Palin and photographer Basil Pao (1997). Michael Palin (of Monty Python fame) uses wit and a keen eye to propel him through a brisk 245-day tour that delivers richly on the book's playful title.
Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling the Pacific, by Paul Theroux (1993). Theroux spends 18 months in a collapsible kayak, bumming around, hopping between 51 islands in the South Pacific, and finding adventure at every turn. From the rain forests of New Zealand to an awkward conversation with the 400-pound king of Tonga, Theroux's accounts are hilarious and insightful, and combine to form a weird and witty collage that illustrates the unseen side of island life.
South Sea Tales, by Robert Louis Stevenson (1999). Stevenson lived the last years of his life in Samoa with his family. This collection of six Pacific-set short stories ranges from a tale about a wish-granting bottle in Hawaii ("The Bottle Imp") to a novella about a bigoted British trader who discovers that his marriage to a native Polynesian girl is a sham ("The Beach of Falesa").
Tales from the Torrid Zone: Travels in the Deep Tropics, by Alexander Frater (2004). The tropics aren't for everyone, but this Vanuatu native convinces us that it's not all about sweltering heat, torrential rain, and malaria. Whether he is dining with the Queen of Tonga in a leper colony or floating down the steamy rivers of Mandalay, Frater finds fascination and excitement with everything torrid.