Book review: Voyagers: The Settlement of the Pacific by Nicholas Thomas

This book is a broad summary of the current state of knowledge regarding the settlement of the Pacific.

Voyagers: The Settlement of the Pacific draws information from a wide range of sources including indigenous verbal accounts, archaeological evidence, linguistic roots, and written accounts, artwork, photos and maps from colonial explorers and missionaries. The short length of this book and fantastic array of pictures and maps makes this an accessible starting point for someone with no existing knowledge of the history of the Pacific, and an enjoyable read for anyone of any level of understanding wanting to get the most up to date information and insights regarding recent discoveries.

Thomas covers many areas of crucial importance to understanding the nature of settlement of the Pacific, particularly when it comes to myths and assumptions borne of racial prejudices; many of which have carried through until very recently. These factors limited the understanding and exploration of existing evidence of settlement and integration throughout the diverse cultures and people of the Oceanic region. While this book does focus predominantly on the voyaging and settlement of the Lapita and Polynesian people, it does touch on, and give some intriguing insights into, the origins of the people of Micronesia and Melanesia.

Nicholas Thomas's writing style is thorough and engaging; and is made more so by the choice selection of visual references. He mixes in his own personal experiences of the Pacific and his journey in learning about the origins of its people. This is certainly a credit to his narrative style as it gives it a warmer and more personal feel than is often found in more compact subject books that try and tackle such a (literally) huge area in such a small space. I would strongly encourage anyone with an interest in Pacific or New Zealand origins to give this a read.