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SEA PEOPLE: The Puzzle of Polynesia

Christina Thompson

Hardcover, 376 pp.

Across the central and southern Pacific Ocean, more than a thousand islands make up the sprawling region of Polynesia. For over a millennium—long before the “discovery” of the Pacific by Europeans in the 16th century—Polynesian peoples inhabited the islands and were the only ones ever to have lived there. The question of where exactly they originated, and how they were able to traverse the vast Pacific has always been a difficult one to answer, made all the more intriguing by the absence of written records from the Polynesians themselves.

In SEA PEOPLE: The Puzzle of Polynesia (Harper; March 12, 2019), Christina Thompson presents a multifaceted account of how, over the course of centuries, people have tried to answer what came to be known as the Problem of Polynesian Origins. From an outside perspective, it seemed extraordinary that a people without writing or metal tools had been able to conquer the largest ocean in the world—especially when navigating the Pacific proved so treacherous to European explorers.

In order to uncover Polynesia’s past, Thompson draws from an impressive range of disciplines, from anthropology to geology, from linguistics to astronomy and the science of navigation. She delves into the earliest encounters that European explorers had in the Pacific, the stories passed down by the Polynesians, how the latest scientific findings affect our understanding of the deep past, and even recounts a twentieth century attempt to recreate the voyages taken by the ancient Polynesians.

Taking us across the Polynesian triangle, from Hawaii to Easter Island to New Zealand, SEA PEOPLE is a fascinating intellectual detective story that seeks to uncover the mysteries and secrets of the Pacific.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Christina Thompson is the editor of Harvard Review and the author of Come On Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All: A New Zealand Story, which was shortlisted for the Douglas Stewart Prize for Nonfiction and the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing. A recipient of grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Australia Council, she was awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities Public Scholar Award in 2016. A dual citizen of the US and Australia, she lives outside of Boston with her family.

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