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Summary

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

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 18th 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 the stories of the many sailors, linguists, archaeologists, folklorists, biologists and geographers who have puzzled over this history for 300 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.

©2019 Christina Thompson (P)2019 HarperCollins Publishers Limited

Critic reviews

"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

What listeners say about Sea People

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Masterly coverage of the subject.

As a complete ignoramus, coming to this book told me all I wanted to know about this fascinating part of the world. All it lacks is a PDF with maps which would, no doubt, have been present in the printed version. This leaves a lotto the imagination, though the author describes enough geography to be a tough guide. Looking at an atlas afterwards merely increases the sense of wonder as to how such avast area could possibly have been navigated in canoes, except that the Vikings achieved something approaching the islanders’ feats. Once aware of this almost miraculous Polynesian achievement, anybody would want to know how and why it was possible, and the author deals with the very complex network of myth and scientific input systematically and clearly. It is fashionable nowadays to embed personal narrative into the material, but to my mind it is unnecessary to the point of off-putting, but that is a small point and perhaps an idiosyncrasy of my own: I can only say that I’m glad it didn’t prevent me taking in the wealth of insight and fact in this excellent book.

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Listened to 3 times over

Great escapism. A topic rarely covered or explored. The first half was a lot more accessible than the second.

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Polinesians more fascinating than you ever thought

very interesting piece with so many twists and turns that it is amazing as a work of fiction and yet all of the players actually did what was recorded.

well presented and carefully and sensitively derived from reputable sources.

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Fascinating

I chose this book because of a TV series I saw decades ago about the Polynesians. I couldn't remember what it was called but it had captured my imagination. This book is equally as captivating. It is a sensitive and respectful account of a history that is controversial in some ways.
I don't usually choose non-fiction because I find it takes too much concentration but this was a very easy listen and I enjoyed the narration very much. I know I'll be thinking about this story for many years to come.