Sea People: In Search of the Ancient Navigators of the Pacific

By Christina Thompson

Winner of the 2020 Australian Prime Minister’s Literary Award for nonfiction and the 2019 NSW Premier’s History Awards for general history

‘Wonderfully researched and beautifully written’ Philip Hoare, author of Leviathan

‘Succeeds in conjuring a lost world’ Dava Sobel, author of Longitude

For more than a millennium, Polynesians have occupied the remotest islands in the Pacific Ocean, a vast triangle stretching from Hawaii to New Zealand to Easter Island. Until the arrival of European explorers they were the only people to have ever lived there. Both the most closely related and the most widely dispersed people in the world before the era of mass migration, Polynesians can trace their roots to a group of epic voyagers who ventured out into the unknown in one of the greatest adventures in human history.

How did the earliest Polynesians find and colonise these far-flung islands? How did a people without writing or metal tools conquer the largest ocean in the world? This conundrum, which came to be known as the Problem of Polynesian Origins, emerged in the eighteenth century as one of the great geographical mysteries of mankind.

For Christina Thompson, this mystery is personal: her Maori husband and their sons descend directly from these ancient navigators. In Sea People, Thompson explores the fascinating story of these ancestors, as well as those of the many sailors, linguists, archaeologists, folklorists, biologists and geographers who have puzzled over this history for three hundred years. A masterful mix of history, geography, anthropology, and the science of navigation, Sea People is a vivid tour of one of the most captivating regions in the world.

Format: Paperback
Release Date: 05 Mar 2020
Pages: 384
ISBN: 978-0-00-833905-0
Christina Thompson is the editor of Harvard Review and the author of Come On Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All: A New Zealand Story, which was shortlisted for the Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-fiction and the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing. A dual citizen of the US and Australia, she lives outside of Boston with her family.

”'I loved this book. I found Sea People the most intelligent, empathic, engaging, wide-ranging, informative, and authoritative treatment of Polynesian mysteries that I have ever read. Christina Thompson’s gorgeous writing arises from a deep well of research and succeeds in conjuring a lost world” - Dava Sobel, author of Longitude and The Glass Universe

”'To those of the western hemisphere, the Pacific represents a vast unknown, almost beyond our imagining; for its Polynesian island peoples, this fluid, shifting place is home. Christina Thompson’s wonderfully researched and beautifully written narrative brings these two stories together, gloriously and excitingly. Filled with teeming grace and terrible power, her book is a vibrant and revealing new account of the watery part of our world” - Philip Hoare, author of Leviathan

”'A compelling story, beautifully told, the best exploration narrative I’ve read in years” - Richard Rhodes, author of The Making of the Atomic Bomb

”'Fascinating and satisfying” - Simon Winchester, author of The Map that Changed the World

”'Essential reading for anyone seeking to understand Polynesia, the Pacific, or the spread of humanity around the globe” - Jack Weatherford, author of Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World

”'Christina Thompson…is perhaps ideally placed to try to answer the question [of Polynesian origins] - and in Sea People, her fascinating and satisfying addition to an already considerable body of Polynesian literature, she succeeds admirably” - New York Times Book Review

”'Compelling… These pages will unleash the imagination [and] spark insight” - National Geographic

”'Superb. . . . An illuminating read for amateur sleuths and professional scholars alike” - Spectator