This compelling book explores the lived experience of empire in the Pacific, the last region to be contacted and colonized by Europeans following the great voyages of Captain Cook. Unlike conventional accounts that emphasize confrontation and the destruction of indigenous cultures, Islanders reveals there was gain as well as loss, survival as well as suffering, and invention as well as exploitation.
Empowered by imaginative research in obscure archives and collections, Thomas rediscovers a rich and surprising history of encounters, not only between Islanders and Europeans, but among Islanders, brought together in new ways by explorers, missionaries, and colonists. He tells the story of the making of empire, not through an impersonal survey, but through vivid stories of the lives of men and women—some visionary, some vicious, and some just eccentric—and through sensuous evocation of seascapes and landscapes of the Pacific. A fascinating re-creation of an Oceanic world, Islanders offers a new paradigm, not only for histories of the Pacific, but for understandings of cultural contact everywhere.