Hawai'i Book Summary - Hawai'i Book explained in key points
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Hawai'i summary

Sumner La Croix

Eight Hundred Years of Political and Economic Change

4.3 (37 ratings)
24 mins

Brief summary

'Hawaii' by Sumner La Croix is a historical and economic account of the Hawaiian economy, its development, and the societal changes that occurred from the early 19th century until statehood in 1959.

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    When humans first settled Hawaii, it offered them an agriculturally rich, politically egalitarian paradise. 

    Hawaii was the last major land area on the planet to be settled. The first humans to live there were twelfth-century Polynesian settlers, who had traveled over two thousand miles in search of new land. 

    Captain James Cook was the first European to set eyes on the islands, in the eighteenth century. He assumed that Polynesians had gotten to Hawaii because the wind had blown their canoes off course. But subsequent research has proved this to be statistically almost impossible. These voyages were intentional.

    So why did small groups of Polynesians choose to leave their homes in canoes and set out for the great unknown? Maybe they were inspired by the potential to discover, or maybe they hoped to find opportunities they didn’t have at home. 

    The key message here is: When humans first settled Hawaii, it offered them an agriculturally rich, politically egalitarian paradise. 

    Setting out on a voyage of thousands of miles in an outrigger canoe is, of course, risky. All manner of accidents could happen on open water, or you might just run out of food and water. But Polynesians had been traveling like this for more than three millennia. They had learned to minimize the risks.

    To navigate, they observed the stars, the sun, the wind, the tides, and seabirds. They carried hardy breadfruit paste and a single giant taro root that would last for months. A fully outfitted canoe could travel about 100 miles per day. 

    Nobody lived on the islands at the time, so settling them was straightforward. For one, Polynesians didn’t have to contend with pushback from native people. Instead, the colonists devoted their time to implementing irrigation and other infrastructure. They built canoes for fishing, they made fish hooks, and – as we’ll see in the next blink – they started huge families.

    Economic history teaches us that when land is sparsely inhabited, large land grants are common. The islands of O'ahu and Kaua'i, with their rain-fed, protected valleys, are well-suited to agriculture. So settlers set up huge taro farms, with intricate irrigation technology imported from Polynesia. For the most part, people worked for themselves, and there was no significant wealth differential. 

    Historians believe that Hawaii’s early settlers had an egalitarian society during the first century or so of settlement. There was plenty of arable land for everyone, so no in-fighting was necessary – at first.

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    What is Hawai'i about?

    Hawai’i (2019) is a detailed history of the economic forces that have shaped Hawaiian society. Author Sumner La Croix traces the arc of commerce, from traditions first established in the twelfth century by Polynesian colonists to the modern Hawaiian state. Along the way, he examines what has changed and what has stayed the same.

    Hawai'i Review

    Hawai'i (2022) by Sumner La Croix explores the rich history, culture, and economics of the Hawaiian Islands. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • Offers a fascinating deep dive into the economic development of Hawai'i, shedding light on its unique challenges and successes.
    • Provides insightful analysis on the complex relationship between the indigenous population and the forces of colonization and globalization.
    • Explores the role of tourism in shaping the modern Hawaiian economy and the impact it has on the local community and environment.

    Who should read Hawai'i?

    • Anyone interested in the dark side of paradise
    • Students of colonialism
    • Labor historians

    About the Author

    Sumner La Croix is a professor emeritus at the University of Hawai’i-Mānoa and a research fellow with the University of Hawai’i Economic Research Organization. He has published dozens of academic articles on the economic history of Hawaii and East Asia.

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    Hawai'i FAQs 

    What is the main message of Hawai'i?

    The main message of Hawai'i is the complex and fascinating history and economy of the Hawaiian islands.

    How long does it take to read Hawai'i?

    The reading time for Hawai'i varies depending on the reader's speed, but it typically takes several hours. However, the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Hawai'i a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Hawai'i is a captivating read that offers valuable insights into the unique culture and economic development of the Hawaiian islands.

    Who is the author of Hawai'i?

    The author of Hawai'i is Sumner La Croix.

    What to read after Hawai'i?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Hawai'i, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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