Hampton Sides

Library Author Series: Hampton Sides

Wednesday, May 29, 2024 - 7:00pm to 8:00pm
  • Library Hall
An evening with the author discussing his new book, THE WIDE WIDE SEA: Imperial Ambition, First Contact and the Fateful Final Voyage of Captain James Cook
Wide Wide Sea

From New York Times bestselling author Hampton Sides,  The Wide Wide Sea: Imperial Ambition, First Contact and the Fateful Final Voyage of Captain James Cook is an epic account of the most momentous voyage of the Age of Exploration, which culminated in Captain James Cook’s death in Hawaii, and left a complex and controversial legacy still debated to this day. On July 12th, 1776, Captain James Cook, already lionized as the greatest explorer in British history, set off on his third voyage in his ship the HMS Resolution. Two-and-a-half years later, on a beach on the island of Hawaii, Cook was killed in a conflict with native Hawaiians. How did Cook, who was unique among captains for his respect for Indigenous peoples and cultures, come to that fatal moment?

Hampton Sides’ bravura account of Cook’s last journey both wrestles with Cook’s legacy and provides a thrilling narrative of the titanic efforts and continual danger that characterized exploration in the 1700s. Cook was renowned for his peerless seamanship, his humane leadership, and his dedication to science-–the famed naturalist Joseph Banks accompanied him on his first voyage, and Cook has been called one of the most important figures of the Age of Enlightenment. He was also deeply interested in the native people he encountered. In fact, his stated mission was to return a Tahitian man, Mai, who had become the toast of London, to his home islands. On previous expeditions, Cook mapped huge swaths of the Pacific, including the east coast of Australia, and initiated first European contact with numerous peoples. He treated his crew well, and endeavored to learn about the societies he encountered with curiosity and without judgment.

Yet something was different on this last voyage. Cook became mercurial, resorting to the lash to enforce discipline, and led his two vessels into danger time and again. Uncharacteristically, he ordered violent retaliation for perceived theft on the part of native peoples. This may have had something to do with his secret orders, which were to chart and claim lands before Britain’s imperial rivals could, and to discover the fabled Northwest Passage. Whatever Cook’s intentions, his scientific efforts were the sharp edge of the colonial sword, and the ultimate effects of first contact were catastrophic for Indigenous people around the world. The tensions between Cook’s overt and covert missions came to a head on the shores of Hawaii. His first landing there was harmonious, but when Cook returned after mapping the coast of the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, his exploitative treatment of the Hawaiians led to the fatal encounter.

About the Author

Hampton Sides is best-known for his gripping non-fiction adventure stories set in war or depicting epic expeditions of exploration. He is the author of the bestselling narrative histories Ghost SoldiersBlood and ThunderHellhound On His Trail, In the Kingdom of Ice, and On Desperate Ground. His most recent work,The Wide Wide Sea: Imperial Ambition, First Contact and the Fateful Final Voyage of Captain James Cook, will be published in April 2024 from Doubleday. Hampton has been a contributor to OutsideNational Geographic, SmithsonianThe New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and many other newspapers and magazines. His journalistic work, collected in numerous published anthologies, has been twice nominated for National Magazine Awards for feature writing. A native of Memphis and a Yale graduate, Hampton is a board member of the Society of American Historians and the Author’s Guild, and he was a recent Miller Distinguished Scholar at the Santa Fe Institute. He has been a resident fellow at Yaddo, the MacDowell Colony, the Aspen Institute, the Ucross Foundation, and Stanford University. He has an honorary doctorate in humane letters from Colorado College. Hampton lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Borrow The Wide Wide Sea from Bud Werner Memorial Library.

Buy The Wide Wide Sea from Steamboat Springs' independent bookstore, Off the Beaten Path.

“Here is an adventure so strange and epic it rivals the greatest tales of myth."
author Peter Heller

Library Author Series

Bud Werner Memorial Library presents an ongoing program of free author talks throughout the year. A diverse range of award-winning authors continues to speak about their literary works and their writing processes. Each talk is followed by a Q&A, and books are available for sale courtesy of Off the Beaten Path Bookstore.