In the mid-19th century the North Pole was a mystery. Some believed that it was an island of basalt in a warm crystal sea. Explorers who tried to penetrate the real icy wastes failed or died. But after Sir John Franklin disappeared with all his men in 1845, serious efforts began to be made to find the true Northernmost point of the globe. Fergus ...Read MoreIn the mid-19th century the North Pole was a mystery. Some believed that it was an island of basalt in a warm crystal sea. Explorers who tried to penetrate the real icy wastes failed or died. But after Sir John Franklin disappeared with all his men in 1845, serious efforts began to be made to find the true Northernmost point of the globe. Fergus Fleming's book is a vivid, witty history of the disasters that ensued. The new explorers included Elisha Kane, a sickly man and useless commander, who led his team close to death in 1854, and Charles Hall, a printer from Ohio. Hall made the mistake of taking an experienced crew, who refused to commit suicide for him. Their mutiny so enraged Hall that he died of a stroke, and some of his crew escaped south on an ice-floe. They were followed by the Germans, newly united and eager for their place in the ice, the Austro-Hungarians and the British, who in 1876 managed to get further than any other expedition, travelling over terrain later explorers considered impassable. They left the field to the Norwegians, to expeditions organized by the American tabloid press, Swedish baloonists, aristocratic Italians and finally to the obsessive Robert Peary, who on one trip took his pregnant wife with him in order to set a record for the most northerly birth in history. He finally made it in 1909.Read Less
Publishers Weekly, 2002-08-26 Whether it was believed to be surrounded by a vast, temperate sea that would facilitate speedy trade between the West and the Orient or, by one fanciful account, the gateway to a subterranean universe of wonder, there is no doubt that the North Pole exercised a powerful pull on the 19th-century imagination. Fleming (Barrow's Boys; Killing Dragons), whose first book outlined the ambitious program of British exploration set in motion by John Barrow, begins this exceptional account roughly where that one left off, recounting the major expeditions sent in search of the top of the world from 1845 to 1969. The book is fascinating for how Fleming renders the haughty, post-Enlightenment brio of the principal adventurers and the extreme, often fatal ends toward which it pushed them. Fleming beautifully weaves together intriguing journal excerpts and exhaustive expedition details to form an unforgettable impression of both the characters involved and the hardships they faced. And the hardships here are gruesome. Scarcely one of the many glory seekers from Britain, the U.S., Germany, Russia, Italy and elsewhere return from their quests wholly intact, either physically or mentally. They ate their dogs, they ate moss and, sometimes, they ate each other, but even when it became clear that nothing but a wasteland awaited them at the pole, they pressed on. Stoires like this make for a captivating look at the best and worst possibilities of the human spirit, told by an author who has established himself as one of the best adventure writers today. (Oct.)
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