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Publisher's Summary

A blend of Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel and Simon Winchester’s Pacific, a thrilling, intellectual detective story that looks deep into the past to uncover who first settled the islands of the remote Pacific, where they came from, how they got there, and how we know.

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 colonize 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 those 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 combines the thrill of exploration with the drama of discovery in a vivid tour of one of the most captivating regions in the world.

©2019 Christina Thompson (P)2019 HarperCollins Publishers

What listeners say about Sea People

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Long Lost History

Great book, lots of interesting information that will keep your attention throughout. One mistake I noticed though the author said at several points that Captain Cook died in 1778 (3hour 58 min and a few min after too). Either misread by the reader, or conflated with the Euro discovery year of Hawaii by the author, or just a simple typo mistake. It did make me a little more critical as I listened as a result. But overall a very good book about a large region that doesn't often get to have its pre-colonial history written about.

24 people found this helpful

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Delightful listen!

Wonderfully written, superbly researched. No tone of superiority, she seems to have read everything on the subject and organized it coherently. Her writing is very elegant and scholarly, so you might need a dictionary to understand it all, but the words are beautiful and exact. It seems the puzzle still isn't solved, but it has been proven that drifting from South America is actually a viable way to reach some islands. They've also shown that ancient navigational methods work even if Westerners can't understand them, and that by using these methods, travel between Hawai'i and Tahiti is possible. You will come to respect and admire these people.

The narration is ethereal. Thompson's long, erudite sentences roll off Lyions' tongue to lie in your lap like shining sea pebbles.

16 people found this helpful

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Another history of European exploration

The author acknowledges early in the book that this is as much about the history of European understanding of Polynesia as it is about Polynesia. It’s really ALL about the evolving European (and such descendants) understandings of Polynesia. The final few chapters transition a bit more to Polynesians experience. Up till then it’s yet another story of Europe’s colonizing even the history of the people’s they colonized. With that understanding, it’s an interesting book.

12 people found this helpful

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Turn the Canoe Around

The best part of the book for me is the 1980 voyage of the Hōkūle'a from Hawai'i to Tahiti. After weeks at sea, apprentice navigator Nainoa Thompson knows he's close to his destination, but is confused and orders the canoe to accidentally sail back out to sea. Imagine, all that hard work preparing for the voyage, all that hard work sailing all that way, dashed by the sheer complexity of the situation. At this moment, master navigator Mau steps in, for the first time of this entire voyage. "Turn the canoe around", he says. "One hour and you will find an island." It was a fish in a bird's beak that Mau saw and Nainoa missed that made the difference. And just like that, the awesome knowledge of Polynesian navigation at its best is on full display.

Sure, this book is for anyone interested in the history of Polynesia. But it is more than that. It is the history of humanity; our shared adventure. If you're having doubts about picking up this book... turn your canoe around. Adventure and humanity await.

Oh, and yes, the narration is wonderful, with an accent that somehow lulls you to attention :-)

12 people found this helpful

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Very informative.

I certainly learned a lot from this book. That being said it wasn’t as entertaining as I was hoping. It reads a lot like a college anthropology textbook. If that’s your jam then you’ll love this book.

6 people found this helpful

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Entertaining and informative

A thoughtful and thorough review of the history of the Polynesian people. Especially intriguing is the story of the rediscovery of their ocean navigation skills and the resuming of long distance voyaging across the Pacific.

5 people found this helpful

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Undisciplined work -- needs an editor!

Many, many times too often the author tells about Europeans and what they thought of Polynesia, not about Polynesia. In some cases she might even say someone had extraordinary observations, but then doesn't tell us what those observations were!

At times she just goes off on random streams of consciousness about, for example literacy. Somewhat interesting, but it feels as if it was stuck in to make the book longer. The only section that is not thoroughly European-dominated is the last chapters on voyaging.

I learned quite a bit, but it was a major effort to withstand the author's self-centered worldview and her inability to tell the story of the sea people. Instead she tells the story of what white people have thought about the sea people and how that thinking has evolved.

Would be more accurately titled "The evolution of how Westerners have viewed people of the south Pacific."

3 people found this helpful

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Well researched, riveting!

I loved every minute of this. Was sad when it was over. Definitely a must listen!! Very well researched.

3 people found this helpful

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Fascinating Story, Told with Grace & Sensitivity

My headline says it all so this is just the required 15 words. Add intelligence, insight and eloquence to my list of descriptors.

3 people found this helpful

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A marriage of Polynesian and European perspectives

Enjoyable and well written story of the spread of humanity across the Pacific Islands, with lots of up to date history, navigation, adventure, anthropology, geology, paleontology and geography. The author is married to a Maori man who descended from these ancient navigators. Her story is also a marriage of changing European perspectives to the changing perspectives of Pacific Island people.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Sean Jackson
  • 05-09-21

Not focused on Polynesian experience

Would’ve preferred to drill into the history or customs of the Polynesian people. This book tended to drift into various topics of European sailing and discovery opposed to the Polynesian.

Also - the amount of lists in this book is epic.
Every chapter has numerous lists where that become very repetitive . (Example: “there were fish, dogs, cats, cows, etc etc)

I found myself bored as the book strayed away from the Polynesian story