Sunday, January 09, 2005

Book Review: The Captain Cook Encyclopedia

"Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will serve before kings; he will not serve before obscure men." (Proverbs 22:29)

As a child one of my many heroes was Captain James T. Kirk. His mission to seek out new life, new civilisations grabbed my imagination ... and it wasn't really that different from the similar mission of a similar-sounding captain: Captain James Cook. (No "T")

The Captain Cook Encyclopaedia could easily have been another biography of James Cook. But instead it's a vital resource for anyone fascinated by that magnificent time of discovery. (Magnificent, culturally disastrous ... whatever your historical perspective, there were some very exciting things going on! More on that in another post...)

Because it's not linear, it invites you (well, me anyway) to randomly dip in and indulge a thirst for knowledge. That's just what I did in my seemingly unquenchable desire to get context on history. Here's what happened.

I was reading Winston Churchill's History of the English-Speaking Peoples, volume 3, about the seven years' war between Britain and France, called by some the real first world war.

The theatre of action was Canada, and the action was exciting. Suddenly I wondered to myself, where was Cook? So I looked up "Canada" in the Encyclopedia ... what do you know, he was right in the middle of it!

But to my point (finally!), Cook was an example of someone who knew he was good at something, and pursued it.

He was a navigator, from his earliest years learning astronomy and mathematics. Partly he was the product of his time - such scientific knowledge was only then beginning to become available to the common people. Like Tupaia, he took opportunity when it came.

Although he didn't have a hope of attending university, Cook created his own learning programme, identifying his career goals and plotting his course around the important goals, sometimes sacrificing smaller gains ... like leaving his civilian employment to become a mere seaman in the Navy. He had bigger goals in mind.

And so we meet him in Canada, still young, and sharp as a tack. Going ashore at Louisbourg, he met a military surveyor, Samuel Holland. Cook learned the technique of land surveying from Holland, and combined it with his existing skill of naval chartmaking, creating a whole new world of accuracy in marine navigation.

Talk about a visionary. As he learnt, Cook envisioned how the information should be, and worked with what he had ... until he had what he had seen in his mind.

That's leadership! And that's just from the "Canada" entry ... imagine what must be under the New Zealand entry :) (Just a bit of baiting for Adam and Matt, the Canadians among us)


Post a Comment

<< Home