Hawaii, the 50th US state, is a unique place. A collection of seven volcanic islands in the middle of the pacific ocean, and home to a collection of cultures (Polynesia meets Asia meets America) , tropical beaches, volcanoes, surfing waves, sea turtles (“Honu”) historic hotels, Pearl Harbor, and much much more. Even the names take you away – Liliuokalani, King Kamehameha and my favorite, the fish Humu humu nuku nuku apuaa (but you can call him the triggerfish)!
Thousands of miles of ocean and several time zones help ensure the seven main islands (Hawaii – The Big Island, Kauai, Lanai, Maui, Molokai, Niihau and Oahu) feel like a world apart from everything else, so much so that the entire continental United States is simply referred to as “the Mainland”.
Still, travel here is made easier because this is part of America – you don’t need a passport, the currency is the same, and your cell phone will still work. All you really need is a book (its a LONG flight) and a bathing suit!
The culture of Hawaii, complete with local language (Pidgin, a sort of Hawaii Creole English), local cuisine (try the Loco Moco), and local history (there is far more here the just luaua and hulas, but a rich tradition of island life) are all presented in a delightfully casual context that makes this island archipelago truly fascinating. Grab any of the books below and start exploring!
- Hawaii was “discovered” by Captain Cook in 1780 – read about him in Captain Cook
- Eventually, missionaries arrived to the islands – read about them in Unfamiliar Fishes
- Once the profitability was realized, eventually pineapple and sugar plantations were formed. These plantations required the use of many laborers – read a historical fiction of that time in Honolulu.
- As the US realized the advantage of the strategic location, they took Hawaii as a territory, and eventually as a state. Read about the whole history of the islands in Hawaii.
- My only complaint about Hawaii is that the book was written in the 1950′s and so doesn’t include what’s happened in the past 50 years. For a modern account of life on the island, check out Hotel Honolulu.
- If you go to visit Hawaii, I highly recommend the guide books by Wizard Publishing: Hawaii (the big island) Revealed and Oahu Revealed.
- You can learn more about Kalupapa, the leper colony established on the Hawaiian island of Moloki on this page.
Books About Hawaii:
|Captain Cook, by Alistair MacLean (1972) – As America was drafting the Declaration of Independence, Captain Cook, great explorer of his time, was sailing around the world. He came across the Hawaii islands, and was welcomed as a god. As the first European to arrive, the Hawaiians were impressed by his height, his ability to breath fire (or smoke a pipe), his arrival on an iron ship, and his arrival just as the god Lono was due to appear. This book is about the life of Captain James Cook, of which Hawaii played an important role.|
|Unfamiliar Fishes, by Sarah Vowell (2011) – After Captain Cook introduced Europe to Hawaii, it was only a matter of time before the missionaries came flocking down. Ms. Vowell describes her research on these missionaries in a history / travel essay written with her characteristic snark.|
|Honolulu, by Alan Brennert (2009) – Regret, a girl born in Korea (her parents wanted a boy) arrives in Hawaii in the early 20th century in search of a better life. She takes us through both plantations and city life.|
|Hawaii, by James Michener (1959) – A sweeping saga, starting with the undersea volcano that would one day create the Hawaiian islands, and ending in the 1950s, this is the the definitive novel on Hawaii.|
|Hotel Honolulu, by Paul Theroux (2001) - A more modern view of life in Waikiki is presented in this novel set in a seedy hotel and narrated by a writer hiding out from the rest of the world.|
|Hawaii Revealed, Oahu Revealed, by Wizard Publications (updated occasionally) – By far the best guide book series I have seen. Reads like a novel, but presents the information you need in a very user-friendly format.|
|Next up on the reading list: