The Thumbnail Book Reviews

by John Q McDonald --- 17 November 2002

Shoal of Time

A History of the Hawaiian Islands

by Gavan Daws

This book is ubiquitous in island bookstores and some tourist shops. First published in 1968, it remains the definitive single-volume history of the Hawaiian islands from the arrival of Captain Cook to statehood. Overall, this is a political biography of Hawaii, an overview highly detailed up until the islands were annexed by the United States in 1898, largely for strategic purposes in the Spanish-American war. Before that, annexation and statehood were a common theme in island politics. Daws gives an excellently written history of the Hawaiian monarchy that reveals the origins of some of Hawaii's political character even today. The 20th century is a little less detailed, with the driving theme that of approaching statehood and the racial and political factions that divided the state. The author was writing at a time before a new movement of Hawaiian identity really got going. Today, native Hawaiians might write this history a bit differently. Monarchs Daws describes as highly individualistic and ineffective as leaders, are also today looked upon with some reverence. Many of these alii were responsible for preserving certain elements of the native culture through times when it looked as though the Hawaiian people might become extinct altogether. This book isn't a cultural or environmental history of the islands, so much of that story remains untold here. What becomes evident is that Hawaii has been at the mercy of outsiders and racial prejudice almost since the moment the islands were sighted by Captain Cook (who met his own ignominious fate there). In 1959, statehood was welcomed with enthusiasm, but there are people who would prefer independence again. Today, though, Hawaii is probably the most racially diverse society in the United States. Still, Daws' book is very engaging, well-written, and vivid. It is a highly readable look at the unique history of the islands. Essential for any resident, or for any visitor who wants to claim to know the islands (though, as much as possible, I would recommend a native perspective for the tourist).

[Mail John][To List]

[Other Books about Hawai'i]

[Other History and Biography]