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In the late 1970s, on my first trip to the South Pacific, someone showed me a copy of an early edition of the South Pacific Handbook. I fell in love with it and have purchased every edition since. This is not just a travel book: it is an adventure in itself.
It's a challenge to find adequate words to describe this book. It seems to me to be a scholarly or encyclopedic work because of its depth and scope, but the information is so well organized and clearly presented that everything falls comfortably in place. You can quickly find what you want to know.
I am writing this comment with the 7th edition of the South Pacific Handbook next to me. The first part of the book, through page 123, provides an extensive background to the South Pacific. Subjects covered include the formation of coral reefs, flora and fauna, the history of discovery, exploration, settlement, colonization by Europe and The Pacific today, government, economy, the people of the South Pacific, conduct and customs, health, food and drink, and much, much more.
David Stanley (the author) devotes the next 800 pages to the islands of Tahiti-Polynesia, the Pitcairn Islands, Easter Island, the Cook Islands, Niue, the Kingdom of Tonga, American Samoa, Samoa, Tokelau, Wallis and Futuna, Tuvalu, Melanesia (Fiji), New Caledonia, Vanuatu, and the Solomon Islands. Reading these pages, you will feel as though you are there. I don't think anything has been left out.
At the end of the book, under the general heading of Resources, is a list of all the information offices (including web sites and e-mail addresses) for all the island groups discussed in the book. There is an extensive Bibliography, including guidebooks, geography, natural science, history, Pacific issues, social science, literature, the arts, reference books, booksellers and publishers, map publishers, and periodicals. A Discography section listing noncommercial recordings of Pacific music follows. A section on the South Pacific on the internet - websites and e-mail addresses for everything you can imagine - is next. Finally, there is a Glossary section and an extensive Index.
In the 1980s, I went to Aitutaki (an atoll in the Cook Islands) after reading a seven-sentence description in the first edition of the South Pacific Handbook. Aitutaki was exactly as Mr.Stanley describes it and I owe my exciting experience there to him.
The next time you are in a bookstore, I suggest that you at least browse through this book. If you buy it, you might try reading it in bed at night. If you're like me, you may start to dream about Bora Bora (French Polynesia), Aitutaki, or some other jewel in the South Pacific.