Reader Review: Chasing a Dream by John Dunmore

Reviewed by Angela Harrex


Chasing a Dream: The Exploration of the Imaginary Pacific by John Dunmore, and published by Upstart Press, is a stellar example of narrative non-fiction. Or as a friend called the genre – ‘biography of a thing’.

Dunmore artfully tells the story of the Pacific Ocean; from when it was dominated by the Spanish, and known as the Spanish Lake, to when it was monopolised by the Dutch East India Trading Company. And further on still with cartographers finally starting to get the charts right with significant help from James Cook, to what for the time was international scientific co-operation to study the Transit of Venus.

Entire chapters are dedicated to the Northwest Passage, and to the fiction that arose out of bad charts, political commentary, sailors’ tall tales. And what history of the Pacific would be complete without some discussion of pirates? So, of course, there is a chapter just for the piracy of the Pacific.

Throughout it all, the search for the mythical great Southern Continent. Able Tasman thought he had found it when he found New Zealand shortly after the smaller Tasmania; but alas Cook’s charting expedition put an end to that notion.

Nearly the entire history of the Pacific in an elegant 200 page (approx.) volume, which includes facsimiles of a number of charts and portrait engravings. It has a stunning cover of a full colour world map, such as it was at the time – it looks (to my eyes) to be seventeenth century in style. There are three pages of notes in the back, in lieu of a bibliography.

It was an excellent read; clear, to-the-point writing makes it accessible to any with an interest in the history of the Pacific. Each chapter has some small, yet relevant, quote from various sources of literature. It could be improved by the inclusion of appendices for the makes of ships, various international treaties, and translations for those whose Spanish, French, and Latin is not quite up to par. Much of the early fiction was written in one of those three languages, and Dunmore quotes their paragraph long titles in the original language – often without the benefit of translation.

I can’t help but think that Chasing a Dream would make a wonderful father’s day gift.