In addition to the books discussed below, those planning an extended trip to Hawaii should check out Frommer's Honolulu & Oahu Day by Day, Frommer's Kauai, Frommer's Maui, Frommer's Maui Day by Day, Frommer's Hawaii with Kids, and Frommer's Hawaii 2012.
Fiction -- The first book people think about is James A. Michener's Hawaii (1974). This epic novel manages to put the island's history into chronological order, but remember, it is still fiction, and very sanitized fiction, too. For a more contemporary look at life in Hawaii today, one of the best novels is Shark Dialogues, by Kiana Davenport (1995). The novel tells the story of Pono, the larger-than-life matriarch, and her four daughters of mixed races. Davenport skillfully weaves legends and myths of Hawaii into the "real life" reality that Pono and her family face in the complex Hawaii of today.
Lois-Ann Yamanaka uses a very "local" voice and stark depictions of life in the islands in her fabulous novels Wild Meat and the Bully Burgers (1996), Blu's Hanging (1997), and Heads by Harry (1999).
Nonfiction -- Mark Twain's writing on Hawaii in the 1860s offers a wonderful introduction to Hawaii's history. His travelogues have been collected in Mark Twain in Hawaii: Roughing It in the Sandwich Islands (1990). A great depiction of the Hawaii of 1889 is Travels in Hawaii, by Robert Louis Stevenson (1973).
For contemporary voices on Hawaii's unique culture, one of the best books to get is Voices of Wisdom: Hawaiian Elders Speak, by M. J. Harden (1999). Some 24 different kahuna (experts) in their fields were interviewed about their talent, skill, or artistic practice. These living treasures talk about how Hawaiians of yesteryear viewed nature, spirituality and healing, preservation and history, dance and music, arts and crafts, canoes, and the next generation.
Native Planters in Old Hawaii: Their Life, Lore, and Environment (2004) was originally published in 1972 but is still one of the most important ethnographic works on traditional Hawaiian culture, portraying the lives of the common folk and their relationship with the land before the arrival of Westerners. The revised edition, with a great index that allows you to find anything, is an excellent resource for anyone interested in Hawaii.
Honolulu Stories: Two Centuries of Writing, edited by Gavan Daws and Bennett Hymer (2008), is a fascinating 1,000-plus-page book filled with the writings of various authors over the past 200 years. More than 350 selections -- ranging from short stories, excerpts from novels, and scenes from plays, musicals, and operas to poems, songs, Hawaiian chants, cartoons, slams, and even stand-up comedy routines -- are contained in this must-read for anyone interested in Hawaii. The authors range from Hawaiian kings and queens to Hawaiian chefs and commoners, including some well-known writers (translated from seven different languages) -- all telling their own stories about Honolulu.
Flora & Fauna -- Because Hawaii is so lush with nature and blessed with plants, animals, and reef fish seen nowhere else on the planet, a few reference books can help you identify what you're looking at and make your trip more interesting. In the botanical world, Angela Kay Kepler's Hawaiian Heritage Plants (1998) is the standard for plant reference. In a series of essays, Kepler weaves culture, history, geography, botany, and even spirituality into her vivid descriptions of plants. You'll never look at plants the same way. There are great color photos and drawings to help you sort through the myriad species. Another great resource is Tropicals, by Gordon Courtright (1988), which is filled with color photos identifying everything from hibiscus and heliconia to trees and palms.
The other necessary reference to have in Hawaii is one that identifies the colorful reef fish you will see snorkeling. The best of the bunch is John E. Randall's Shore Fishes of Hawaii (1998). Two other books on reef-fish identification, with easy-to-use spiral bindings, are Hawaiian Reef Fish: The Identification Book, by Casey Mahaney (1993), and Hawaiian Reef Fish, by Astrid Witte and Casey Mahaney (1998).
To learn everything you need to identify Hawaii's unique birds, try H. Douglas Pratt's A Pocket Guide to Hawaii's Birds (1996).
History -- There are many great books on Hawaii's history; best to start at the beginning with the formation of the Hawaiian Islands, vividly described in David E. Eyre's By Wind, By Wave: An Introduction to Hawaii's Natural History (2000). In addition to chronicling the natural history of Hawaii, Eyre describes the complex interrelationships among the plants, animals, ocean, and people. He points out that Hawaii has become the "extinction capital of the world," but rather than dwelling on that fact, he urges readers to do something about it and carefully spells out how.
For a history of "precontact" Hawaii (before Westerners arrived), David Malo's Hawaiian Antiquities (1976) is the preeminent source. Malo was born around 1793 and wrote about the Hawaiian lifestyle at that time, as well as the beliefs and religion of his people. It's an excellent reference book, but not a fast read. For more readable books on old Hawaii, try Stories of Old Hawaii, by Roy Kakulu Alameida (1997), on myths and legends; Hawaiian Folk Tales, by Thomas G. Thrum (1998); and The Legends and Myths of Hawaii, by His Hawaiian Majesty King David Kalakaua (1992).
The best story of the 1893 overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy is told by Queen Liliuokalani, in her book Hawaii's Story by Hawaii's Queen Liliuokalani (1990). When it was written in 1898, it was an international plea for justice for her people, but it is a poignant read even today. It's also a must-read for people interested in current events and the recent rally for sovereignty in the 50th state. Two contemporary books on the question of Hawaii's sovereignty are Tom Coffman's Nation Within: The Story of America's Annexation of the Nation of Hawaii (1998) and Thurston Twigg-Smith's Hawaiian Sovereignty: Do the Facts Matter? (2000), which explores the opposite view. Twigg-Smith, former publisher of the statewide newspaper The Honolulu Advertiser, is the grandson of Lorrin A. Thurston, one of the architects of the 1893 overthrow of the monarchy. His so-called "politically incorrect" views present a different look on this hotly debated topic.
An insightful look at history and its effect on the Hawaiian culture is Waikiki, A History of Forgetting and Remembering, by Andrea Feeser (2006). A beautiful art book (designed by Gaye Chan), this is not your typical coffee-table book, but a different look at the cultural and environmental history of Waikiki. Using historical texts, photos, government documents, and interviews, this book lays out the story of how Waikiki went from a self-sufficient agricultural area to a tourism mecca, detailing the price that was paid along the way.
Hawaii Five-0 -- Hawaii Five-0 premiered on Monday, September 20, 2010, 42 years to the date from the premiere of the original hit show in 1968. Filmed on the island of Oahu and featuring scenes from Waikiki and Honolulu, it, like the original, follows a state police task force set up to fight crime. The original series ran from 1968 to 1980; it is yet to be determined whether the remake can live up to the original's long life.
Lost -- This original series, filmed all over the island of Oahu, aired on ABC between 2004 and 2010, and revolved around the lives of the survivors of the crash of a commercial passenger jet flying between Sydney and Los Angeles, on a mysterious tropical island somewhere in the South Pacific Ocean.
Magnum, P.I. -- From 1980 to 1988, this drama, broadcast on CBS, and filmed on Oahu, told the story of Thomas Magnum (Tom Selleck), a private investigator living in Honolulu.
Our favorite movies filmed on Oahu that don't necessarily depict Oahu are:
Jurassic Park -- Filmed on the islands of Kauai and Oahu, Steven Spielberg's 1993 megahit, which was billed as "an adventure 65 million years in the making," is the story of dinosaurs on the loose at the site of the world's only dinosaur farm and theme park, where creatures from the past are produced using harvested DNA.
The Karate Kid, Part II -- In one of those instances where the sequel is actually better than the original, this 1986 movie takes our hero Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) and his mentor, Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita), to Miyagi's homeland, Okinawa, to visit his dying father and confront his old rival. An entire Okinawan village was re-created on Oahu's Windward Coast.
The Lost World: Jurassic Park -- In Steven Spielberg's 1997 follow-up to Jurassic Park, dinosaurs have been bred and then escaped following the abandonment of the project in the first installment. The sequel features much more Hawaiian scenery than the original.
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides -- The 2011 American adventure fantasy film, and the fourth film in the "Pirates of the Caribbean" series (following Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End), was filmed on Oahu (and Kauai). In the film, Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is joined by his former lover Angelica (Penélope Cruz) in his search for the Fountain of Youth, confronting the infamous, real-life, legendary pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane) along the way.
Our favorite films made in Hawaii and about Hawaii are:
Blue Crush -- The 2002 surfer film, filmed on Oahu's North Shore, was directed by John Stockwell and stars Kate Bosworth, Michelle Rodriguez, Sanoe Lake, and Mika Boorem. In it, a beautiful surf girl is distracted by a hunky football player while she is trying to prepare for a big surfing competition.
Blue Hawaii -- Chad Gates (Elvis Presley), upon discharge from the Army, returns to Hawaii to enjoy life with his buddies and girlfriend, against the wishes of his parents, who want him to work for the family business. Elvis Presley, Joan Blackman, and Angela Lansbury make this 1961 film a classic, with great music and beautiful Hawaiian scenery from the early 1960s.
50 First Dates -- This 2004 romantic comedy stars Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler in a story about a young woman (Barrymore) who has lost her short-term memory in a car accident and who now relives each day as if it were October 13. She follows the same routine every day, until she meets Henry Roth (Sandler), who falls in love with her and seeks a way to forge a long-term relationship.
Forgetting Sarah Marshall -- This underrated 2008 romantic comedy -- about a composer who vacations in Hawaii to escape a depressing breakup, only to encounter his ex and her new boyfriend at his hotel -- was shot on Oahu, at the Turtle Bay Resort. Directed by Nicholas Stoller, it stars Jason Segel, Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis, and Russell Brand.
From Here to Eternity -- Fred Zinnemann's 1953 multiple-Oscar winner, set in pre-World War II Hawaii, tells the story of several army soldiers stationed on Oahu on the eve of Pearl Harbor. The film won Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Frank Sinatra), Best Supporting Actress (Donna Reed), and five other awards.
Hawaii -- George Roy Hill's 1966 adaptation of the James Michener novel features amazing island scenery and stars Julie Andrews, Max von Sydow, and Richard Harris. It is a great introduction to the early history of Hawaii.
Molokai: The Story of Father Damien -- This 1999 film follows the life of Belgian priest Damien de Veuster from 1872, the year before his arrival in Kalaupapa, through his years ministering to the patients with Hansen's disease at Kalaupapa, until his death at the Molokai settlement in 1889.
Pearl Harbor -- Michael Bay's 2001 film depicts the time before, during, and after the December 7, 1941, Japanese attack (with the best re-creation of the Pearl Harbor attack ever put on film), while simultaneously telling the story of two best friends and the woman they both love.
Picture Bride -- Japanese director Kayo Hatta presents this 1995 film about a Japanese woman who travels to Hawaii to marry a man that she has never met, but has only seen through photos and letters. She soon discovers that he is twice her age and that much turmoil awaits her in her new home. Beautifully filmed on the North Shore of Oahu.
Tora! Tora! Tora! -- This 1970 film tells the story of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor as seen from both American and Japanese perspectives.
Hawaiian music ranges from traditional ancient chants and hula, to slack-key guitar, to contemporary rock, to a new genre, Jawaiian, a cross of reggae, Jamaican, and Hawaiian. To listen to Hawaiian music, check out Hawaiian 105 (www.hawaiian105.com). Below are our picks for Hawaiian music.
- Best of the Gabby Band, by Gabby Pahinui (traditional Hawaiian)
- Gently Weeps, by Jake Shimabukuro (contemporary Hawaiian)
- Hapa, by Hapa (contemporary Hawaiian)
- Hawaiian Blossom, by Raiatea Helm (traditional Hawaiian)
- Hawaiian Tradition, by Amy Hanaiali'i Gilliom (traditional Hawaiian)
- Honolulu City Lights, by Keola & Kapono Beamer (contemporary Hawaiian)
- Legends of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar, by various artists (a collection of slack-key guitar music and a 2007 Grammy winner)
- Masters of Hawaiian Slack Key, Vol. 1, by various artists (a collection of slack-key guitar music and a 2006 Grammy winner)
- Na Leo Hawaii, by the Master Chanters of Hawaii (chanting)
- Na Pua O Hawaii, by Makaha Sons (contemporary Hawaiian)
- Wonderful World, by Israel Kamakawiwo'ole (contemporary Hawaiian)