adventures in the south seas
General Natural History

Fosberg, F.R. ed. 1965. Man’s Place in the Island Ecosystem. Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press. This is a volume of symposium proceedings
featuring some of the top scientists of the time, on a variety of ecological and cultural topics.

Mitchell, Andrew. 1989. The Fragile South Pacific. Austin: University of Texas Press. An account of the naturalist Andrew Mitchell’s travels in the South Pacific, with in-depth discussions of various natural history topics.

Earth Sciences

Darwin, Charles. 1842. The Structure and Distribution of Coral Reefs. London: Smith, Elder and Co. Darwin’s theory of reef growth and island subsidence.

Guilcher, A., 1988, Coral Reef Geomorphology. New York: John Wiley and Sons. Excellent book on all of the physical characteristics of coral reefs and reef islands.

Menard, H.W. 1986. Islands. New York: Scientific American Books, Inc. The best general book on oceanic islands.

Nunn, P.D. 1995. Oceanic Islands. London: Blackwell. Very good detailed scientific book on oceanic islands.

Williams, Howell. 1933. Geology of Tahiti, Moorea, and Maiao. Bernice P. Bishop Museum Bulletin: 105. Basic geology and geomorphology of these islands.


Cox, Paul Allen and Sandra Anne Banack. 1991. Islands, Plants, and Polynesians. Portland: Dioscorides Press. Collection of papers on Polynesian plants and agriculture by some of the top names in the field.

Merril, Elmer, D. 1981. Plant Life of the Pacific World. Rutland: Charles E. Tuttle Company, Inc. A general introduction to tropical Pacific flora.

Mueller-Dombois, D. and Fosberg, F.R. 1998. Vegetation of the Tropical Pacific Islands. New York: Springer.

Whistler, W. Arthur. 1992. Flowers of the Pacific Island Shore. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. One of the only good guides to vegetation in Polynesia.


Fontaine, P. et al. 1993. Manu: les oiseaux de Polynesie. Tahiti: Scoop (Collection Survol). Nice illustrated guide, but probably only available in Tahiti or France.

Harrison, Craig, S. 1990. Seabirds of Hawaii. Ithica: Cornell University Press. About Hawaiian birds but applicable to tropical seabirds throughout Polynesia.

Pratt, D.; P.L. Bruner; D.G. Berret. 1987. The Birds of Hawaii and the Tropical Pacific. Princeton: Princeton University Press. The best bird book on this region.


Alkire, William. 1978. Coral Islanders. Arlington Heights: AHM Publishing. Life on the remote atoll of the Caroline Islands.

Danielsson, Bengt. 1956. Work and Life on Raroia.

Emory, Kenneth, P. 1933. Stone Remains in the Society Islands. Bernice P. Bishop Museum Bulletin. V. 116

Gell, Alfred. 1996. Wrapping in Images: Tattooing in Polynesia.

Henry, Teuira, and J.M. Orsmond. 1971. Ancient Tahiti. Bernice P. Bishop Museum Bulletin. V. 48

Kirch, Patrick, V. 1989. The Evolution of Polynesian Chiefdoms. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kirch, Patrick, V. 2000. On the Road of the Winds: An Archaeological History of the Pacific Islands Before European Contact. University of California Press.

Kirch, Patrick V. and R.C. Green. 2001. Hawaiiki, Ancestral Polynesia: An Essay in Historical Anthropology. Cambridge University Press.

Kirch, Patrick V. and J-L Rallu. 2008. The Growth and Collapse of Pacific Island Societies. University of Hawaii Press.

Krauss, Bob. 1988. Keneti. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. Biography of Kenneth Emory, the dean of Polynesian anthropology.

Levy, Robert, I. 1973. Tahitians: Mind and Experience in the Society Islands. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. An excellent study of the lives of Tahitian people in two different villages.

Lockwood, Victoria, S. 1992. Tahitian Transformation: Gender and Capitalist Development in a Rural Society (Women and Change in the Developing World).

Oliver, Douglas, L. 1975. Ancient Tahitian Society.

Oliver, Douglas, R. 1983. Two Tahitian Villages: Some Essays in Comparison

Whistler, W. Arthur. 1994. Polynesian Herbal Medicine.

Polynesian Migrations and Seafaring

Buck, P.H. (Te Rangi Hiroa). 1938. Vikings of the Sunrise. New York: Lippincott. Classic book on Polynesian migrations and seafaring.

Finney, Ben, R. 1979. Hokelea: The Way to Tahiti. New York: Dodd, Mead & Co.

Kyselka, Will. 1987. An Ocean in Mind. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. About two modern practitioners of traditional navigation and the voyage of the Hokule’a.

Lewis, David. 1972. We, the Navigators. Honolulu: The University of Hawaii Press. Excellent book on traditional navigation in the Pacific.


Aldrich, Robert. 1994. France and the South Pacific Since 1940.

Cook, James. 1971. The Explorations of Captain James Cook in the Pacific. New York: Dover Publications, Inc. Selections from Captain Cook’s journals from his three voyages to the Pacific, each of which visited Tahiti.

Danielsson, Bengt; M.T. Danielsson. 1974. Moruroa, mon amour: The French Nuclear Tests in the Pacific. Paris: Stock

Darwin, Charles. 1839. Journal of Researches into the Geology and Natural History of the Various Countries Visited by H.M.S. Beagle, under the Command of Captain FitzRoy R.N., from 1832-36. London: Colburn . The Beagle and Darwin landed in Tahiti in 1835. This book is often reprinted as The Voyage of the Beagle.

Dening, Greg. 1988. Islands and Beaches: Discourse on a Silent Land: Marquesas, 1774-1880.

Dening, Greg. 1992. Mr. Bligh’s Bad Language. Cambridge University Press. A very clever and informative history of the Bounty voyage.

Ferdon, Edwin, N. 1981. Early Tahiti as the Explorers Saw It, 1767-1797.

Howe, K.R. 1984. Where the Waves Fall. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. An excellent history of Polynesia from first settlement to colonial rule.

Maude, H.E. 1968. Of Islands and Men. Melbourne: Oxford University Press. Collection of essays on south Pacific history.

Moorehead, Alan. 1989. The Fatal Impact: The Invasion of the South Pacific 1767-1840. London: Hamish Hamilton.

Oliver, Douglas, L. 1951. The Pacific Islands. Boston: Harvard University Press. The classic anthropological history.

Osborn, Fairfield. 1944. The Pacific World. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. Post-WW2 American view of the Pacific islands.

Salmond, Anne. 2003. The Trial of the Cannibal Dog. London: The Penguin Group. Excellent history and analysis of Cooks voyages.

Withey, Lynne. 1987. Voyages of Discovery. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc. History of Captain Cook’s explorations in the Pacific.

Non-Fiction Stories and Adventures

Day, A. Grove and Carl Stroven. 1966. True Tales of the South Seas. New York: Appleton-Century. A selection of non-fiction stories from a variety of well known writers and explorers.

De Bisschop, Eric. 1959. Tahiti Nui. New York: McDowell, Obolensky. This is an account of a 200-day raft journey from Tahiti to Chile. This expedition was undertaken in part as a response to Thor Heyerdahl’s Kontiki voyage.

Denis, Renee Roosevelt. 1996. To Live in Paradise. Fort Bragg: Lost Coast Press. Autobiographical account of an American woman who came to live in Tahiti.

Frisbie, Robert, Dean. 1928. The Book of Puka Puka. Honolulu: Mutual Publishing Company. Great classic of an expatriate trader in a south seas paradise. In paperback.

Gaugin, Paul. 1994. Noa Noa. The Tahiti Journal of Paul Gaugin.

Heyerdahl, Thor. 1974. Fatu Hiva. New York; Doubleday and Company, Inc. Account of Thor Heyerdahl’s first adventure in Polynesia – attempting to live native style with his wife in the Marquesas.

Heyerdahl, Thor. 1950. Kon-Tiki: Across the Pacific by Raft. Chicago: Rand McNally. The account of Heyerdahl’s raft trip from South America to the Tuamotu Archipelago, which was an attempt to show that Polynesians came from South America, instead of S.E. Asia.

Horowitz, Tony. 2003. Blue Latitudes. NY: Picador Pressny. A very good analysis of the legacy of Cooks voyages, and a funny travelogue as well.

Melville, Herman. 1982. Typee, Omoo, Mardi. Ed. George Thomas Tanselle. Compilation of three of Melville’s books listed below.

  • Typee (1846. New York: Wiley & Putnam) is a slightly fictionalized account of Melville’s stay in the Marquesas after he jumped ship there in 1842. This was Melville’s first book and aside from some exaggerations it is an excellent account of Marquesan life in the 1800s.
  • Omoo (1847. New York: Harper & Brothers) is a continuation of Melville’s adventures after he left the Marquesas and ended up in Tahiti and Moorea.
  • Mardi (1849. New York: Harper & Brothers) is more south seas sailing adventures.

Stevenson, Robert Louis. 1900. In the South Seas. London: Kegan, Paul, International, Ltd. Autobiographical account of Robert Louis Stevenson’s travel adventures in the South Pacific.

Theroux, Paul. 1992. The Happy Isles of Oceania. London: Hamish Hamilton. Theroux’s journal of his travels through the Oceania with a folding kayak and a sardonic wit.


DuPrel, Alex, W. 1990. Tahiti Blue. Papeete: Les Editions de Tahiti. Modern collection of stories from around the South Pacific.

Hall, James Norman. 1950. The Far Lands. Boston: Little Brown and Company. A very readable blend of western storytelling and Polynesian legends.

Langdon, Robert. Tahiti, Island of Love. Excellent history of Tahiti from first European contact until the start of nuclear testing in 1960s.<

Loti, Pierre. 1987. Tahiti : The Marriage of Loti. Translated from the French by Clara Bell.

Maugham, W., Somerset. 1919. The Moon and Sixpence. London: William Heinemann, Ltd. A well researched and beautifully written fictional biography of Paul Gaugin.

Michener, James, A. 1950. Return to Paradise. New York: Ballantine Books. Inspired by Michener’s travels in the South Pacific, this is a collection of non-fiction essays matched up with fictional stories that he created for each topic.

Nordhoff and Hall. 1989. Mutiny on the Bounty. Little Brown and Co. Reprinted in paperback, this is the fictionalized account of the true story of Captain Bligh, Fletcher Christian, and the lure of the South Seas.

Segalen, Victor. 1907. Les Immemoriaux. Paris: Mercure de France. Translated to English as A Lapse of Memory, this is an ethnographic novel based on extensive research.

Sinclair, Marjorie. 1982. The Path of the Ocean: Traditional Poetry of Polynesia.vVaite, Celestine. 2006. Frangipani. Back Bay Books. Story of family life in Tahiti by a Tahitian author.

Vaite, Celestine. 2006. Breadfruit. Back Bay Books. Story of family life in Tahiti by a Tahitian author.

Vaite, Celestine. 2007. Tiare in Bloom. Back Bay Books. Story of family life in Tahiti by a Tahitian author.

Vargas Llosa, Mario. 2003. The Way to Paradise. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Interwoven fictionalized biographies of Paul Gauguin and his grandmother Flora Tristan.

Other Related Readings

Johannes, R.E. 1992. Words of the Lagoon. Berkeley: University of California Press. Excellent account of traditional fishing methods and native knowledge of the marine world in Micronesia.

Quammen, David. 1996. The Song of the Dodo. New York: Touchstone. Wonderful blend of personal adventures, science, and history, all woven around the themes of island biogeography, evolution, and extinction.

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