Many people have asked me why, once I built a life-time brand in Texas history, I would write a history of Hawaii. The official answer is, having written so many books on Texas, I was naturally curious about that OTHER republic that was annexed by the United States. Unofficially, I have always wanted to visit Hawaii and knew I would never have the money, so getting a contract to research a history was the obvious solution!
Like Texas history, Hawaii history has become a battleground over control of the narrative, with the forces of revisionism and political correctness having now all but silenced any view that pre-contact native life less than a paradise. I knew I was walking into a minefield, as a professor friend of mine, before my research trip, asked how I was coming with the research. I said I was finding nothing to change my mind that the overthrow of the Queen in 1893 was indefensible, but I was also increasingly troubled by learning of the abuse and oppression of the common people by their own chiefs and kings before Americans ever showed up. I gave him several examples, he nodded and said that was quite true. "However," he said, "if you write your book that way, and you don’t position the natives as the victims of AMERICAN oppression, that won’t help you get back into grad school."
I marinated in this irony for a moment and said, "That must be what they mean by academic freedom." I took a research assistant with me, and we hit the Hawaii State Archives, the University of Hawaii Archives, the Honolulu Historical Society, the Mission Houses Museum Archives, and visited numerous historical sites and museums. We learned a lot about "stinkeye," which is the look that natives give you as they wish you would drop dead, but I was determined to tell the truth about their history as I learned it. The reviews have been some of the best of my career—except of course from native bloggers who hate it, and me, and don’t realize that the broader historical community is aware of the degree to which political agendas have taken over their history.
"Excellent survey of Hawaii’s history ... revealing and balanced." -- Booklist
"A pertinent work of keen understanding of the complex Hawaiian story ... even-handed, nuanced." -- Kirkus Reviews
"Weaving a vast web of culture clashes amid the military and ideological conquests that turned native Hawaiians into "strangers in their own land," Haley delivers his narrative through big personalities: royalty, missionaries, and conquerors of various backgrounds. His excellent exploration of the legendary figures of Hawaiian culture avoids the revisionist tendency to ... gloss over the horrors of pre-contact life. This balanced perspective is certainly welcome in the canon of Hawaiian history, which is often beset by political agendas." -- Publishers Weekly
"A haunting tale ... meticulously researched ... essential for readers interested in American history or politics." -- Library Journal
"Historian and biographer James Haley charts Hawaii’s epic journey from kingdom to statehood with authority." -- Road Scholar
"Totally engaging, slightly off-kilter narrative … enlivened by Haley’s very effective character sketching … and his readings of these characters are almost always refreshing. … worth reading even by the wary." -- Open Letters Monthly
"Haley’s story goes beyond surfboards and orchids; it is a dramatic history of the U.S.’s most recent and complex state." -- Shelf-Awareness.com
"In this single hefty volume... Haley tells the quarter-millennium story of Hawaii's recent progress... This book presents a potent reminder of the crucial significance of Hawaii... "Captive Paradise" begins with a memorably fine account of the murderous moments leading up to Captain Cook's death at Kealakekua Bay on the Big Island in 1779. Mr. Haley then weaves his way through the tortuous history of the various monarchs and princes... He then adroitly navigates the minefields of these missionaries, and of their descendants who made so many ungodly fortunes in pineapple, sugar and rice. He places in its proper perspective the shameful deposition in 1893 by a group of American businessmen ... of Queen Lili'uokalani, and the consequent ending of Hawaii's monarchy." -- Wall Street Journal
"Haley’s narrative is certainly satisfying. In addition to the rich detail about the culture and the three-dimensional portraits of historical figures, the pace is quick and conveys the rapidity with which Hawaii became a powerful part of the Pacific." -- Roanoke Times
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