If you're headed to the South Pacific for vacation or just have an insatiable curiosity about this exotic and beautiful region, reading about these islands' history, culture and people can provide both entertainment and insight. Here's a selection of books, half fiction and half non-fiction, set in the islands of Tahiti, Bora Bora, Fiji, Vanuatu, American Samoa and more.
Fiction: These five novels by some of Europe and America's top 19th- and 20th-century writers tell tales of mutineers, soldiers, cannibals, artists and more.
Mutiny on the Bounty
The most famous of all novels set in the South Pacific, this 1932 retelling of the mutineers onboard the HMS Bounty, written by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall, has inspired not one but three movies. It recounts the tale of Captain James Bligh, who lost his ship when his crew, led by Fletcher Christian, mutinied in Tahiti in 1789. Purchase Mutiny on the Bounty.
Tales of the South Pacific
Another famous ode to the isles of the South Pacific that achieved equal fame as a move (1958's "South Pacific" starring Mitzi Gaynor and Rossano Brazzi), James A. Michener's 1948 story of soldiers, sailors and nurses living through the drama of world war, won the 1948 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Purchase Tales of the South Pacific.
This 1846 adventure tale, the first book written by Herman Melville (five years before he penned his classic "Moby Dick") tells the tale of shipmates stranded in the fictional South Pacific cannibal kingdom of Typee (inspired by Melville's stay among the tribes in Tahiti's Marquesas islands).
Also written by "Mutiny on the Bounty" authors Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall, this 1936 story narrated by a French military doctor tells of struggles between colonists and a native named Terangi in the French South Pacific. It was turned into a 1937 John Ford-directed movie starring Dorothy Lamour, Jon Hall and Raymond Massey.
The Moon and Sixpence
This 1919 fictionalized take on the life of artist Paul Gauguin, whom author W. Somerset Maugham makes British and calls Charles Strickland, chronicles the artist's obsession with creativity at all costs after he moves to the Tahitian islands to paint. Purchase The Moon and Sixpence.
Non-Fiction: These five true-life tales recount experiences in the South Pacific both historic and modern-day.
The Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling the Pacific
Travel writer Paul Theroux takes readers on a real-life adventure in his sometimes harsh, sometimes amusing 1992 travelogue about his journey by kayak around South Pacific islands, from Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu to Tonga, Samoa, Fiji and Tahiti. Purchase The Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling the Pacific.
The Journals of Captain Cook
This definitive edition of detailed journals kept by one of the world's most famous explorers, British Captain James Cook, who sailed the South Pacific not once but three times between 1768 and 1779, was edited and published by J.C. Beaglehole in 1962, providing a first-hand account of Cook's encounters in the until then unknown islands of the South Pacific. Purchase The Journals of Captain Cook
Mad About Islands: Novelists of a Vanquished Pacific
This 1987 work by A. Grove Day takes a look at the lives of literary luminaries such as Robert Louis Stevenson, Herman Melville, Jack London, James A. Michener and others, all of whom spent time living in the South Pacific.Purchase Mad About Islands: Novelists of a Vanquished Pacific
In the South Seas
Published posthumously in 1896, this book recounts the observations and personal anecdotes of author Robert Louis Stevenson during his travels with his wife Fanny and their children in the Marquesas and Gilbert Islands in 1888 and 1889. Purchase In the South Seas
Getting Stoned with Savages: A Trip Through the Islands of Fiji and Vanuatu
J. Maarten Troost's comic travel memoir, published in 2007, tells of his adventures drinking kava and dodging lava flows in the Melanesian island-nation of Vanuatu (where his wife was working for a non-profit) and subsequent move to Fiji for the birth of their first child.