cover image The Death of Captain Cook: A Hero Made and Unmade

The Death of Captain Cook: A Hero Made and Unmade

Glyn Williams. Harvard University Press, $19.95 (197pp) ISBN 978-0-674-03194-4

When it happened, the death of Captain Cook captivated the European imagination: murdered on a beach by Hawaiian natives, the popular story at the time was that he died defending himself form an unprovoked attack. In this stilted history, professor Williams (of Queen Mary University, London) seeks to prove, through primary sources and centuries of scholarship, that Cook probably instigated the attack, and that the circumstances surrounding his death were sanitized to serve a pro-colonialist agenda. Though likely to catch the interest of colonial history buffs, Williams reiterates the same limited set of points, suggesting that had it received a proper edit, she wouldn't have enough material for more than an academic paper (an intriguing look at the changing perceptions of Cook through the post-colonial era reads almost as an afterthought). It doesn't help that, considering Cook's importance as a symbol of colonialism, Williams's main point-that Cook's death has been manipulated to serve many political purposes-is somewhat self-evident.