A Great Read...

(Some book reviews...) (Page 2 of 4 pages.)


Albanov, Valerian. 1917 (2000). In the Land of the White Death: An Epic Story of Survival in the Siberian Arctic. Modern Library (Random House) (Hardcover - 205 pages); ISBN: 0-679-64100-9. English translation of this rediscovered lost classic. Albanov was the navigator on board the Russia sail and steamship Saint Anna, part of a twenty-six person 1912 arctic exploration expedition. The Saint Anna was stuck in the polar ice pack for a year and a half, at which point Albanov and a few companions decided to try to move overland across the ice pack with sledges and kayaks to Franz Joseph Land. A great true story and an easy read; I think that I got through this one in two nights or so. Again, as is the case with a lot of books in this area, it is hurt by the weakness of the included maps and the (understandable) lack of archival photography.

Beattie, Owen, and John Geiger. 1987 (1998). Frozen in Time: The Fate of the Franklin Expedition. Greystone Books (Douglas and MacIntyre) (softcover - 186 pages); ISBN: 1-55054-616-3. This is the account of the 1981 archaeological excavations of some of the graves associated with the Franklin Expedition (see review of Ice Blink by Cookman) and the subsequent data analysis. The authors firmly lay one of the causes of the demise of the expedition on lead poisoning from the seams of the early tinned provisions used by the expedition. This is an interesting write-up on the exumation and autopsy work, however, the Cookman book is far superior as both historical treatment and scientific detective work.

Bearton, Pierre. 1988 (2001). The Arctic Grail: The Quest of the Northwest Passage and the North Pole, 1918-1909. The Lyons Press, New York, NY (softcover - 672 pages); ISBN: 1-58574-116-7. This is a very comprehensive overview on the history of arctic exploration. A few of the accounts, like the Jeannette disaster, are a bit too short for my taste, but this is still the most thorough overall treatment of this subject that I have found. The book has more maps than most, although they are quite small; there is an outstanding chronology at the end of the volume. Most of the lesser-know expeditions are discussed (e.g., Andree's 1897 balloon attempt on the pole, as well as the lesser-known Franklin rescue missions). The Peary and Cook polar claims and susequent feud are discussed in detail. Perhaps this is really just a fantastic portrait of men trudging and sailing off into total desolation (and in most cases perishing there) for personal glory and notoriety (and wealth from books and lectures) or simple obsession; and much less so for reasons of national pride or scientific exploration.

Cookman, Scott. 2000. Ice Blink: The Tragic Fate of Sir John Franklin's Lost Polar Expedition. John Wiley & Sons (Hardcover - 256 pages); ISBN: 0471377902. A search for the Northwest Passge. At the time, the largest and most well planned scientific expedition in the history of humankind. Two specially built ships, new food preservation technology, ample stores... and the eventual death of all hands. Why did it happen? For that matter, what happenned? One of the greatest mysteries in exploration and maritime history. The loss of Franklin spawned almost continuous search expeditions for sixty years or so. Cookman takes the reader on a harrowing account of the expedition, and it's evetual decline into cannibalism and an ill-fated attempt by some of the members to walk to the mouth of the Back River, then on to Reliance on Great Slave Lake. The book is based on journals found by search teams, Royal Navy records and some great scientific detective work. Was the cause of the tragedy lead or botulism poisoning, ---dementia resulting from a "biological Chernobyl" caused by an unethical food supplier, as well as the crushing pack ice? You just have to buy this book for the food scientist, microbiologist, or explorer on your Christmas list.

If you want to see some nice links about Beachey Island and the John Franklin Expedition, see also The Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Center Beechey Webpage.

Freuchen, Peter. 1935 (introduction by Gretel Ehrlich, 2002). The Lyons Press, Guilford, CT; (soft-cover - 400 pages); ISBN: 1-58574-582-0. In 1910 Freuchen and Knud Rasmussen established a trading post and settled with the Greenland Inuit at Thule. This is a comprehensive tale of life with their adopted culture. The book delves into Inuit spiritual life, social politics, Bear hunts, famine, cannibalism, and survival skills. I found that it reads like a wonderful day-to-day journal. This is a relatively long book, but it reads rather briskley. I really enjoyed it, particularly the accounts of the several "Thule Expeditions" across Greenland on skiis with dogs and sledges.

Guttridge, Leonard, F. 2000. The Ghosts of Cape Sabine. Putnam Publishing Group (Hardcover - 320 pages); ISBN: 0399145893. The ill-fated Adolphous Greeley Expedition to Lady Franklin Bay between Greenland and Ellismere Isand. Although a potential scientific and national success for the United States; however, political apathy and botched relief expeditions abandoned the party in the arctic and sealed the fates of these hardy members of the United States Army Signal Corps. A fascinating look at a neat period of exploration, as well as a glimpse into the workings of the US government beurocracy from about 1878 to 1884. A great tale of survival, and northern exploration, with allegations of good old arctic-exploration cannibalism thrown in for good measure.

Guttridge, Leonard, F. 1986 (2001). Icebound: The Jeanette Expedition's Quest for the North Pole. Penguin Books (Putnam Publishing Group) (softcover - 327 pages); ISBN: 0-425-18178-2. This is a great book. The ill-conceived 1879 expedition of Captain George DeLong, pushed by New York Herald publisher James Gordon Bennett in an attempt to sell as many newspapers as did his stunt of sending Henry Morton Stanley in search of "missing" African explorer Divid Livingstone. Stuck in the ice off Wrangel Island and eventually crushed, the survivors treck across the ice towing three boats that eventually will get two of the parties across open ocean to the maze-like Lena delta on the Siberian mainland. Of these, only one party would survive exposure on the mainland. Eventual recriminations and Congressional hearings. I liked this one a bit better than The Ghosts of Cape Sabine (reviewed above), but then, that too is an excellent book that studies a closely related (concurrent) event, but it is, in reality, a very different story. Both offer interesting portraits of the US Government and the American culture of the period. It is so ironic that the 1913 voyage of the Karluk (see Jennifer Niven, below) thirty-four years later, with the scientists and crew abandoned by their "leader" Stefannson, should so closely repeat the Jeanette catastrophe.

Loomis, Chauncy, C, and Andrea Barrett. 2000. Weird and Tragic Shores. Modern Library (Paperback - 384 pages); ISBN: 037575525X . In 1860, fifteen years after Sir John Franklin's ill-fated expedition disappeared in the Arctic, an obscure and almost comical Cincinnati businessman named Charles Francis Hall set out to rescue the Franklin survivors. An amateur explorer, without any scientific training or experience, he was driven by a sense of personal destiny and religious and patriotic fervor. He made three forays into the far North, the final one taking him farther north than any Westerner had ever gone before. But Hall was suddenly taken ill and died under mysterious circumstances. Ninety-seven years later, Chauncey Loomis headed an expedition to Hall's grave in northwestern Greenland. He exhumed the frozen remains and performed an autopsy. His findings support that the earlier investigators of Hall's death nervously sidestepped the damning evidence of murder and mutiny

McKinlay, William Laird. 1976. Karluk: The Great Untold Story of Arctic Exploration. Widenfeld & Nicholson, London, UK (Hardcover - 166 pages including index); ISBN: 0-297-643-68-1. One of the scientists, whom helped hold things together for the survivors of the expedition. McKinley's book, also listed below under a different subtitle (see Niven, Jennifer, 2000) as a U.S.-published trade paperback: The Last Voyage of the Karluk : A Survivor's Memoir of Arctic Disaster. This is the story of the ill-fated 1913 Stefannson expedition where the vessel Karluk sailed by Captain Robert Bartlett proceeded up the Bearing Strait and east into the Arctic Ocean. The ship was then marooned in the pack ice well north of Alaska and the border with Canada, and then abandoned by Stefannson, off to save his personal glory. Eventually, Captain Bartlet and his Inuit companion Kataktovik undertook a 700-mile journey over sea ice to Siberia to summon a rescue party. A fantastic story of personal strife, subsistance hunting and fishing on Wrangel Island, and the cooperation between two very different cultures (although Jennier Niven's book is a far better examination of this topic). This is Mckinlay's memoir. Scottish scholteacher, meterologist and magnetician, he joined the expediation, survived, went on to fight in WWI, and finally passing away in 1983 aged 95yrs. This is one of the great expedition books about the north and is a necessary companion to the work by Jennifer Niven.

Neider, Charles, ed. 2000 (1884, 1956). Man Against Nature: Firsthand Accounts of Adventure and Exploration. Cooper Square Press, New York (Trade paperback - 483 pages including index); ISBN: 0-8154-1040-9. Great compilation of adventure, expedition and survival stories. Beginning with Pliney the Younger's eyewitness description of the eruption of Vesuvious, the book covers extreme adventure situations from William Beebe's bathescaph dives in the Pacific Ocean, to Amundson at the South Pole... The list goes on with stories by: Thor Heyerdahl, Jacques Custeau, Ernest Shackelton, Edmund Hillary, Ernest Hemingway, Jim Corbett, Chrles Lindberg and Orville Wright, among others. This is quite the volume, and will keep the history, travel or adventure fanatic glued to the book for quite some time. It is a great book to take traveling since a story can be "knocked off" during te leg of a flight, or sitting around in an air terminal.

Niven, Jennifer. 2000. The Ice Master: The Doomed 1913 Voyage of the Karluk. Hyperion Press, New York (Hardcover - 402 pages); ISBN: 0-7868-6529-6. Castaway in the Arctic! This is the story of the ill-fated 1913 Stefannson expedition (with the vessel Karluk sailed by Captain Robert Bartlett) up the Bearing Strait and east into the Arctic Ocean. After becomming marooned in the pack ice well north of Alaska and the border with Canada, then abandoned by Stefannson, off to save his personal glory, the ship would drift westward, icebound under the command of Captrain Bartlett, until it was eventually sunk north of the Wrangel and Herald Islands north of Siberian Russia. Twenty-one men, an Inuit woman and her two small daughters, tewnty-nine dogs and the ships cat, would eventually make their way back across mountainous sea ice to reach Wrangel and Herald Islands. many would perish. Captain Bartlet and his Inuit companion Kataktovik undertook a 700-mile journey over sea ice and the Siberian landscape to summon help. A remarkable story of heroism and survival. Very well written. My only criticism of this book is that, once again, the dreadful lack of detailed maps made me continually run to my atlas. Niven based much of her text on the original journals of the crew, particularly the the writings and interviews with William Laird McKinlay, one of the scientists, whom helped hold things together for the survivors. McKinley's book, The Last Voyage of the Karluk : A Survivor's Memoir of Arctic Disaster (Paperback - 192 pages Reprint edition (May 19, 1999) Griffin Trade Paperback; ISBN: 0312206550) has a 4-and-one-half-star rating from Amazon.com readers. I have not yet read his book.

Ruby, Robert. 2001. Unknown Shore. Henry Holt and Company, New York (Hardcover - 301 pages); ISBN: 0-0-8050-5215-1. The story of the founding and later rediscovery of England's three Frobisher attempts to find the Northwest Passage and establish a gold-mining colony in the New World. This is a dual narrative that traces the establishment of the Elizabethan colony by Martin Frobisher on Baffin Island (1576-1578), and the nineteenth century explorations of Charles Francis Hall (1861-1871) (see notes for Chauncy Loomis above) whom, with the help of the Inuit, found archaeological remnants of the colony while searching for evidence or survivors of the ill-fated Sir John Franklin Expedition (see notes for Scott Cookman above). It is interesting with respect to how different cultures view one another and interact... Frobisher decieved, took hostages, killed, etc., when first meeting the Inuit; Hall saw himself as the god-like kindly father, even though his Inuit friends guaranteed the success of his mission as well as his personal safety (at least on this, the First Hall Expedition). This is a historically rich text that can be a tad daunting at times due to the copious amount of detail and background information presented on some pages. Don't let this stop you, this is a neat book that is fun to read--- and (with respect to the Frobisher outings) points out the incredible depth of human self-deception, greed, and lack of common sense. The character development is outstanding and it is a great look into the court-side workings of Elizabethan England.

A whimsical image of Inuit kayakers from an account of Frobisher's second voyage (1577). This image was perhaps inspired by one of his captives taken to Bristol. See also Frobisher for more information.

Rosove, Michael. 2000 (2002 trade paperback. Let Heroes Speak: Antactic Explorers, 1772-1922. Berkeley, Penguin Books, New York (Trade paperback - 359 pages); ISBN: 0-425-18330-0. Overview of the history of the Antarctic expeditions. From James Cook 's 1777 official discovery of the southern ice cap to Ernest Schakelton's 1922 expedition. For the volume of material covered, this is a relatively compact volume with adequate maps and a few photographs. At about $14 for the paperback, it is a good addition to the shelf. This is a good "south pole" companion volume to Pierre Bearton's 1988 (2001) book The Arctic Grail: The Quest of the Northwest Passage and the North Pole, 1918-1909.

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