Lost Kingdom: Hawaii’s Last Queen, the Sugar Kings, and America’s First Imperial Adventure

Written by Julia Flynn Siler
Review by Bethany Latham

This book covers an ambitious amount of ground — biography, cultural history, treatise on American imperialism, and comment on today’s corporate culture. Siler examines all through the lens of the life of Lili’uokalani, the last constitutional monarch of Hawaii. Siler’s writing style reflects her career as journalist — concise and readable, and she is obviously fascinated by her chosen subject (ie, Hawaii). To explain how Hawaii became, as the U.S. envoy wrote a “pear…now fully ripe…to pluck,” Siler delves into Polynesian history and culture, in particular Lili’u’s family history and the effect of early Christian missionaries and their descendents, the sugar barons. In Siler’s version, elements of its native culture made Hawaii an easy target for manipulation (eg, there was not even a word in the Hawaiian language to describe the foreign concept of private ownership of land); it also featured a childlike acceptance and awe of Western culture, as well as venal incompetence in its reigning family, in particular Lili’u’s brother, King Kalakaua. This combination proved enough to forever divest Hawaii of its sovereignty. By the time Lili’u, whom Siler portrays as a strong and intelligent woman, attempted to resist, it was already far too late.

Siler’s book is an interesting, well-researched look at how America acquired this jewel of the Pacific.