Goodreads Monday: Sea People


Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia
by Christina Thompson
384 pages
Published March 2019 by Harper

From Goodreads: 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 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 combines the thrill of exploration with the drama of discovery in a vivid tour of one of the most captivating regions in the world.


I live in a landlocked area. A very landlocked area. The nearest ocean is 1,600 miles away. Because of this, islands are strange to me, and the notion of people navigating the open ocean without modern technology baffles and amazes me. I’ve heard glowing reviews of this book, so it definitely goes on the TBR.

5 thoughts on “Goodreads Monday: Sea People

  1. Thanks for the book suggestion! I’m polynesian from Hawai’i lol so anytime there’s a book about Polynesia I haven’t heard about it definitely goes on my tbr list! Can’t wait to read it!

  2. You’re welcome! You might also check out Wayfinding by MR O’Connor, which has a section on how the Polynesians navigated vast swaths of open ocean and found the various islands. It was one of my top nonfiction books of last year.

  3. Oooh, if you read this, I’d love to read your review. Nonfiction is often challenging for me, so I don’t pick it up often. But ever since I saw Moana I’ve been very intrigued by wayfinding. It makes logical sense to me… use the stars and ocean currents to map the open sea around you. But as someone who relies A LOT on my visual clues to know where I am, that seems nearly impossible.

    I know you recommended Wayfinding to me also — but if I’m going to pick *one* book about the Polynesians, well, I want it to be the best one. 😉

  4. Sea People is at my library, so I’ll be able to get it whenever. I should do that soon. I’ve been craving some nonfiction lately.

    Wayfinding isn’t just about the Polynesians, so I wouldn’t call it a book about Polynesians. It’s also about the Inuit in northern Canada and Greenland, and the Australian Aboriginals. It was fascinating! All about navigating without tools like compasses.

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