Sunday, May 20, 2012

Recent Books

We have been reading a few books that are relevant to our south sea travels and thought it might be useful to someone if we shared our thoughts.

Cruising guides consulted so far:

"Exploring the Marquesas Islands" by Joe Russell - This paperback volume covers the main anchorages for all the islands and a few less visited ones. We like he sketch charts for each harbour and his walking tours as well as the local knowledge imparted. The book is a bit dated unfortunately, as it was published in 2000, so some things have changed, including, for example the location of the main anchorage for yachts in Taiohae, Nuku Hiva.

"Guide to Navigation and Tourism in French Polynesia" by Bonnette and Deschamps. Another paperback volume, this one quite thick with nice colour photos. It covers the Australs, Gambier Islands, Marquesas, Society Islands and Tuamotus at a reasonable level of detail. It is translated from French and not always well in some places. The mini charts could be better and way points are not included for approaches, passes, or anchorages. The information is also a bit out of date.

Nature guides:

"Collins Guide to Tropical Plants" by Lotschert and Beese. We have used the excellent photos in this book to identify edible and medicinal fruit and plants. Has good detail on common plants - their appearance, locations where they are found, how they spread through the tropics, and what they are used for.

"The Pacific Islands" by Douglas L. Oliver. This is an excellent paperback book for those interested in the geology, geography, economics, history and ethnology of the many island groups in the South Pacific. I found it easier to read than many books written with such lofty aspirations.

"A Naturalist's Guide to the Tropics" by Marco Lambertini. I have not read this yet, but it is nicely illustrated (with colour photos and drawings) and runs the gamut from geology and soil through animals, fish, and plants. It covers the tropics around the world.

Travel writing/Fiction:

Typee and Omoo by Herman Melville - These are accounts, somewhat dressed up, of the authour's experiences in French Polynesia, the first one being of his stay with cannibals at Typee valley on Nuku Hiva. We enjoyed the description of everyday tribal life and the Polynesian culture. The second continues where the first left off and describes life on board a whaler and in Tahiti, where the author was imprisoned. I found the writing surprisingly modern, sympathetic to the natives, and humorous. We have these as e-books downloaded from Project Gutenberg.

"Mystic Isles of the South Seas" by Frederic O'Brien - An account of the authour's stay in Tahiti shortly after the first world war. This and two other books that cover O'Brien's travels in the Marquesas and the Tuamotus are great reads. The authour predicts the impending extinction of the Polynesians, which at the time he was writing seemed inevitable due to catastrophic population decline. O'Brien digs deeper into the cultures he visits on his travels than most travel writers and I thoroughly enjoyed his descriptions of the places he visited and people he got to know. Very critical of the missionaries, traders, and most colonizers, he is sympathetic to the plight of the Polynesians. These books, too, can be obtained as e-books from Project Gutenberg.

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