Voyagers: The Settlement of the Pacific

Nicholas Thomas

My review 2022-11-11

A nice description of the controversies and investigations of the settlement of the Pacific Ocean islands by several different waves of people. It's a wonderful and fascinating story. In particular, the skills involved in navigating the deep sea using the stars and reading the signs of the ocean are humbling. The traditions and techniques developed by these expert seafarers were amazing, and happily there are now efforts to remember and revive the old ways.

The author Nicholas Thomas convincingly argues that the expansion of humans into Oceania could not have been primarily a random affair of shore-bound craft being blown off-course, or people being swept out on rafts by tsunamis. One important point is that the expansion took place in distinct pushes, historically brief, with long periods of little change in between.

The narrative focuses perhaps a little too much on the historical ideas and prejudices in the development of the sciences involved, but given the strong influence of racist ideas in interpreting the facts, it is understandable. The book is amply illustrated with many historical renderings, and though the maps are very useful, I do miss a schematic map showing the approximate geographical and temporal paths of the expansion. But it is nevertheless a book very well worth reading.