The Wide Wide Sea

The Wide Wide Sea by Hampton Sides

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline for The Wide Wide Sea:

Retire before the job kills you.

Quick synopsis:

The final voyage of legendary explorer Captain James Cook.

Fact for Non-History People:

Cook’s second circumnavigation of the globe took 1,100 days and about 100,000 nautical miles.

Fact for History Nerds:

Cook never had a sailor die of scurvy under his command. I cannot emphasize how insane that is.  

My Take on The Wide Wide Sea:

The chances of me not loving The Wide Wide Sea by Hampton Sides were admittedly nil. I rank Sides as one of the best best non-fiction writers today. You also add in the fact he is writing about my favorite explorer of all time in Captain James Cook. Sides looks specifically at Cook’s final journey around the world which, if you know nothing about it, is epic. Last year, in 2023, a lot of people who don’t usually read non-fiction took a chance on David Grann’s The Wager and loved it. Well, it is not an insult to either book to say that The Wide Wide Sea is this year’s The Wager. It’s only February but this book will be in my Top 5 of the year when it is all said and done without question.

Sides has a gift for taking big stories and making them feel small and intimate. I also already knew he can write an exceptional book about ocean voyages (if you haven’t read In the Kingdom of Ice yet, you should rectify that as soon as possible). He added another wrinkle with this book. Before it begins, Sides states that he is going to look at this story with recognition of how some of these actions look to us today. Before you write this book off, this doesn’t mean Sides took today’s politics and painted everyone as an evil imperialist. Instead, what he provides is context. Sure, a lot of things you will read about would be abhorrent to most people today, but Sides places them in their time and calls out double standards when he sees them.

What I didn’t expect was that Sides willingness to look back at Captain Cook with a contemporary lens makes him even more interesting. Cook was (for his time, let’s not overstate this) a more compassionate explorer than most. If you put Hernán Cortés on the inhumane side of the scale, Cook is on the other end. That is, until this final voyage. Cook’s third voyage shows cracks in his armor, and it leads to ruin. I knew how it ended and I was still riveted because Sides is just that good. Make sure you read this book.

(This book was provided as an advance copy by Netgalley and Doubleday Books.)


A must read for everyone. Buy it here!

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