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The Last Navigator Paperback – October 1, 1997


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 307 pages
  • Publisher: International Marine/Ragged Mountain Press; 1 edition (October 1, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0070645744
  • ISBN-13: 978-0070645745
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,482,143 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Thomas, an experienced deep-water sailor, had long been fascinated by Micronesian navigators who, without maps, compasses, or sextants, sailed hundreds of miles between the islands of Oceania. To discover how these men traveled with only natural signs for guidance, he apprenticed himself to one of the few remaining navigators and lived with him on Satawal for many months. This autobiographical account describes his learning of navigation and the world view of a dying art. The sons of Piailug were not interested in traditional navigation in the face of modern Western alternatives. An anthropological account for the layperson (but with scholarly appendixes), this is also a story of personal relationships, of contrasting cultures, and of skills mostly unrecorded before now. For academic and large public collections, especially those on Oceania.Roland Person, Southern Illinois Univ . Lib . , Carbondale
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Back Cover

As a young man piloting a small sailboat across the Pacific, Steve Thomas developed a fascination with ancient methods of navigation. He learned of a seafaring culture which 6,000 years ago, used arcane navigation arts to guide initiates unerringly across the Pacific wih no compasses, no charts. By the time of Christ, these navigators were pushing on through all of Oceania, populating nearly a quarter of the Earth's surface. Thomas ventured to the tiny coral atolls of Micronesia in search of these mysteries, this ancient language of the sea. There he found the last navigator.

Mau Piailug, one of the last surviving palu, belongs to a dying breed of navigators who used only natural signs--stars, waves, birds--to guide their sailing canoes across thousands of miles of open ocean.

Thomas and Piailug voyage together on the frail ship of human memory in an attempt to preserve for future generaions an ancient, mysterious, and beautiful kinship with the sea before it is lost forever. Theirs is an unforgettable journey.

"An unusually self-revealing, honest and moving book." --Scientific American.

"Finely crafted and compellingly written. . . . A deeply saddening book about the fast approaching death of an ancient and beautiful way of life." --Aloha Magazine

Steve Thomas by thirty-one years of age had already logged more than 30,000 blue-water miles as a professional navigator and skipper before setting out to study Micronesian navigation. He is currently the host of the PBS television series "This Old House."


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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 23, 1999
Format: Paperback
This book is one of the few good 1980's attempts to document the voyaging culture of the Caroline Islands of Micronesia. It follows Kenneth Brower's 'Song For Satawal', which is now out of print!
Plenty of authentic stuff to make this a good read even if you get queasy at the insecurities and soul-searching and quest for meaning that pervades this account of one man's unique adventure in the Pacific.
There is lots of interesting anthropology (or is it sociology?) here, such as the system for ownership and preservation/protection of marine resources. Good background for anyone working in resource management in the Pacific.
The image that sticks in my mind after reading this book is the agonizing, slow-motion demise of traditional society in the small islands of the Carolines. The Carolines had centuries of Spanish/German/Japanese/USA stepping on their culture, still they managed to resurrect the voyaging skills, but now face the competition of outboards, charts, technological changes. Their oral tradition recorded vast local knowledge of this part of the pacific ocean, but the younger generations for some reason don't have the desire to avail themselves. Youngsters move away, they choose to join the workaday world instead of developing their skills at the traditonal systems that proferred self-sufficiency to their ancestors. The youngsters don't want the old way.
The few remaining navigators are at a loss how to preserve the sailing traditions, so one of them accepts a student from Boston, Mass.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Prof. James E. McGregor on September 23, 1998
Format: Paperback
The original edition of Thomas' saga showed an excellent example of the truly gifted amateur contributing to the practical art of cultural analysis. Drawn to solve a personal intellectual problem on how the early polynesians navigated, Thomas chose the solution of walking in their "mocassins" or paddling in their canoes, learning their language and living their culture. I found his journey as intriguing as the quests of Oliver Sachs(Island of the Color-blind People) or Jared Diamond (Guns, Germs and Civilization) and as intricate as Dva Sobel's tracing of the development of the Chronometer (Longitude). His tool of learning about these people by choosing their most precious historical achievement was inspired. His report by cross-referencing his modern "quantified" vision with their "common sense" qualitative analysis of the sea and its trails is a fascinating tale of multi-cultural experiences. Will he ever return? Even if the island culture is forever changed, one can only hope that he will in some way give us a follow-up picture. Professional scientists and anthropologists should note that Thomas' approach solves the "solipsistic problem" of intercultural communication as effectively as the "Seti Project" hopes to in the future. It is as interesting as Carl Sagan's fiction-- "Contact", but much closer than one might imagine.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 14, 1998
Format: Paperback
Steve Thomas's exploration of the ancient way of navigation in the Pacific Ocean, shows how ancient navigators and modern man clash in a strugle of the sea. Thomas learns about himself when he goes to the Pacif to train under the pau to learn ancient ways of sailing. He also learns about his relationship with Pau and his own father in this touching story of sailing and life. I highly recommend this book for anyone intrested in sailing, ancient navigation and the ways other cultures has strugled with the modernization of their land and beliefs.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 23, 1998
Format: Paperback
The original edition of Thomas' saga showed an excellent example of the truly gifted amateur contributing to the practical art of cultural analysis. Drawn to solve a personal intellectual problem on how the early polynesians navigated, Thomas chose the solution of walking in their "mocassins" or paddling in their canoes, learning their language and living their culture. I found his journey as intriguing as the quests of Oliver Sachs(Island of the Color-blind People) or Jared Diamond (Guns, Germs and Civilization) and as intricate as Dva Sobel's tracing of the development of the Chronometer (Longitude). His tool of learning about these people by choosing their most precious historical achievement was inspired. His report by cross-referencing his modern "quantified" vision with their "common sense" qualitative analysis of the sea and its trails is a fascinating tale of multi-cultural experiences. Will he ever return? Even if the island culture is forever changed, one can only hope that he will in some way give us a follow-up picture. Professional scientists and anthropologists should note that Thomas' approach solves the "solipsistic problem" of intercultural communication as effectively as the "Seti Project" hopes to in the future. It is as interesting as Carl Sagan's fiction-- "Contact", but much closer than one might imagine.
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