Review of Polar Literature

Archive of Past Articles

Book Review:

What America was like when Cook was at the Pole:
America 1908: The Dawn of Flight, the Race
to the Pole, The Invention of the Model T and the
Making of a Modern Nation.

By Jim Rasenberger

291 pages, 44 illustrations, New York: Schribner

ISBN 10 0-7432-8077-6

America, 1908: The Dawn of Flight, the Race to the Pole, the Invention of the Model T and the Making of a Modern Nation

I first encountered Jim Rasenberger as the author of a book called High Steel: the Daring Men Who Built the World’s Greatest Skyline. Those who have marveled at the majesty of the skyline of Manhattan from the harbor or on the approach to the city’s airports know of this image. I was part of a steel heritage study in Western Pennsylvania some two decades ago which reconstructed the origins of that “high steel” in the blast furnaces and rolling mills of Pittsburgh, Homestead, Braddock and other onetime citadels of an industry then at its apex.


Book Review:

National Geographic and the World it Made

by Robert M. Poole

New York: Penguin Books, 2004 358 p., illus., maps

ISBN 1-59420-032-7

The world as seen by the National Geographic

Any American born in the 20th century who liked to read was bound to have been influenced by the National Geographic, a wonderful publication that brought good paper, fine color and exceptional photography to a mass audience. The contents gave us a new lens on the world, taking us to places that only a very few would ever see.  


Book Review:

Arctic Explorers and American Culture

by Michael F. Robinson

University of Chicago Press 200p

ISBN 0226721841

When ‘Arctic Fever’ swept across the nation

 “My world has been so closely tied to theirs” writes Michael F. Robinson, a New England history professor who has researched the persona of 19th and 20th century Arctic explorers, seeking to find answers for what he calls the Arctic Fever. Kane and Hall and Greeley and Wellman provide abundant material in this quest prior to his capping the Cook-Peary saga that would straddle the two centuries. 


Book Review:

Puzzles and Perils at the Top of the World

by Andrew C. Revkin

Boston: Kingfisher Press128 p. with illus.

ISBN 2-46819-97531

Looking at Pole while there’s still an ice cap

New York Times environmental reporter Andrew Revkin has covered climate change and climate politics for 20 years. During the past three years, he has visited the Arctic on three occasions, explored and written about the Amazon River and has reported extensively on the Asian tsnami disaster. He has written two previous books - The Burning Season, a New York Notable Book of the Year in 1990, and Global Warming. He has won several awards for his journalism.


Book Review:

A Human History of the Arctic World

by Robert McGhee

New York: Oxford University Press, 2005, 296 p.

ISBN 0195183681

Communicating the wonders of the Arctic and its long neglected human side in a new history

Robert McGhee is not just another writer-author who dabbles in Arctic topics. He may be Canada's leading archeologist of the Far North, the Curator of Arctic Archeology at the Canadian Museum of Civilization. An archeologist who has conducted over thirty years of research on the ancient peoples of the Arctic, he was awarded the 2000 Massey Medal of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, Canada's highest award for excellence in the geographical sciences.

The Last Imaginary Place has drawn significant praise from some of the top critics of the Arctic scene in both Canada and the United States. "McGhee makes us care about this precious part of the world by putting color, flesh, diversity, and particularity back into a complex history and multifaceted human geography that has often been homogenized and generalized, removed from time and objectified. This is a beautiful book and a fine testimony to McGhee?s expert and long-standing love of the Arctic." says Sherrill Grace, Professor of English at the University of British Columbia, and author of Canada and the Idea of North.

                                                                               > READ THE FULL ACCOUNT 

Book Review:

True North: Peary, Cook and the Race to the Pole

by Bruce Henderson

W.W. Norton & Co. $24.95

ISBN 0393057917 288 p

True North: a real Cook and Peary 
emerge in a new ‘race to the pole’ account

Controversy about the 1908/1909 discovery of the North Pole has raged for 95 years, and generated enough books and articles to fill a fair-sized library. Bruce Henderson, the latest author to make a literary contribution, differs in several ways from prior writers on this subject. First of all, he is a highly acclaimed researcher and bestselling author, with additional credentials as a newspaper reporter, magazine writer and university journalism professor. Secondly, he is no stranger to polar research and writing. His 2001 book, Fatal North: Adventure and Survival Aboard USS Polaris, the First U.S. Expedition to the North Pole, is the best and most complete account of the last expedition of Charles Francis Hall to northernmost Greenland. Last but certainly not least, he enters the controversy without any ties to either Admiral Robert E. Peary or Dr. Frederick A. Cook that enables him to render an impartial judgment on the merits of the rival claimants.
                                                                               > READ THE FULL ACCOUNT 

Book Review:

Exploring Polar Frontiers: A Historical Encyclopedia

by William James Mills

ABC-Clio Inc., $149.98

ISBN 1576074226 900 p

Exploring Polar Frontiers:
Mills’ long awaited historical encyclopedia of the Arctic

William J. Mills had been the ultimate resource person for anyone who was probing into the depths of Polar exploration. The librarian at the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge, he oversaw what was probably the largest and most inclusive collection of printed matter on the subject.
                                                                               > READ THE FULL ACCOUNT 

Book Review:

1421: The Year China Discovered America

by Gavin Menzies

NY: Morrow, 2003,
385 pages, many maps & illustrations

ISBN: 0060537639

Were Pre-Columbian Chinese at Pole in 1421?
Author says that Year China Discovered America

After years plowing through the underwaters of most of the globe’s seas, onetime Royal Navy submarine Commander Gavin Menzies has charted a new course, with an environment ever as murky as those in the depths. “Fascinating but flawed” was the Booklist review in dissecting Menzies’ thesis that Chinese fleets explored most of the world decades before Europeans voyaged to the Americas (according to the author, explorers such as Columbus already knew the Americas were there because they had access to maps based on Chinese records). Menzies even argues that Chinese colonies were planted in the Americas, disappearing from view as they mingled with indigenous populations. 
                                                                               > READ THE FULL ACCOUNT 

A dramatis personae
in the high Arctic, 1901

Boreal Ties
Edited by Kim Farley Gillis and Silas Hibbard Ayer III (University of New Mexico Press)

The 1901 Erik Expedition was significant in many ways. It represented the last contact in the field between Frederuick A. Cook and Robert E. Peary. It was the occasion of the prophetic physical examination and diagnosis of Peary by Cook.

And it was a unique insight into the fascination that Arctic exploration was held by the North American public at the turn of the century, when Pole-seeking was at its best- and soon to become its worst.

In 1899 Peary, on an extended stay in his Northern Greenland Expedition, had suffered the loss of seven toes to frostbite at Fort Conger but refused to return to receive proper treatment (see Ralph Myerson, MD: “Peary’s Toes: A unique medical history of the explorer’s loss of his toes,”: Polar Priorities, 2001, p 39-40). When Josephine and their seven year-old daughter went to Greenland to persuade him to come home, the die was cast for the Peary Relief Expedition, organized in 1901.

                                                                               > READ THE FULL ACCOUNT

Book Review:

The Navigator of New York

Cook and Peary as central figures in a new novel

by Wayne Johnston

hb, 469 p. NY: Doubleday & Co.

ISBN 0385507674


Canadian author Wayne Johnson has written a new novel which has part of its setting in the bustling streets of late 19th century New York to the farthest Arctic dominions of his native country. The author of the highly-acclaimed “The Colony of Unrequited Dreams” has now completed an epic story of “one man’s quest for the secret of his origins” as a theme that includes Frederick Albert Cook as the central figure in his novel.

As a young child in St. John’s, Devlin Stead and his mother, Amelia, are suddenly abandoned by his father, Dr. Francis Stead, who flees north to practice medicine among the Eskimos. Distraught by his absence, Amelia throws herself into the icy ocean from Signal Hill. Rather than return home, his father joins the American Lieutenant Peary on one of his attempts to reach the North Pole, but wanders off from camp one night and is never seen again. Now orphaned, Devlin grows up an outcast and a loner, attended to by his devoted Aunt Daphne and his taciturn physician uncle.

                                                                               > READ THE FULL ACCOUNT 

Book Review:

Polar Reaches

The History of Polar Exploration

by Richard Sale

220 p., many illus & maps, $29.95
ISBN: 0-89886-873-4
Seattle:  Mountaineers Books
London: HarperCollins


The literal blizzard of Polar books and reprints in recent years offers the expected tapping of a new interest market in the history and personalities which have made the story of the ends of our earth so attractive to readers.  In fact, the quirks of publishing bring the same book in two titles, equally intriguing:  To the Ends of the Earth in Great Britain and its U S counterpart, Polar Reaches.

Author Richard Sales is a British glaciologist who by his own account has "trekked and traveled all over the world," with an affinity for the Arctic regions.  He also is a mountain climer of some accomplishments, having authored a previuos book On Top of the World, a history of the larger peaks.  Thus Sale is more than the usual "armchair" observer, and his comments may offer greater currency than others.

                                                                               > READ THE FULL ACCOUNT 

The Canadian 'Karluk' expedition:
Bartlett was a hero, Stefansson was not

The Ice Master: The Doomed 1913 Voyage of the Karluk
by Jennifer Niven (Hyperion, $24.95)

Jennifer Niven has combined superlative narrative skills with meticulously thorough research to produce what is certainly the most complete and accurate account of the ill-fated Karluk Expedition of 1913­14. This book is based on the diaries, journals, unpublished and published manuscripts and papers of the members of the expedition, and on other pertinent material as well as public records in governmental archives. Prominently included in Niven's research is the diary of and a personal interview with William Laird McKinlay, the last surviving member of the expedition and an individual who devoted 60 years of his life to a frank and truthful presentation of the facts concerning the expedition.
                                                                               > READ THE FULL ACCOUNT 

It's not a chilling story, it's a
blood-freezing nightmare

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Ghosts of Cape Sabine: the Harrowing True Story of the Greely Expedition
by Leonard F. Guttridge (Putnam, $19.50)
reads like a suspenseful novel, with an exhaustive mass of sources used to reconstruct the story.  Alleged mutiny, cannibalism, the execution of one soldier and the loss of most of the expedition...makes "harrowing" an understatement.  
Reviewed by Ted Heckathorn. 
                                                                               >     READ THE FULL ACCOUNT

The Forgotten Man who Filled
the Shoes of Shackleton

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Frank Wild: an Explorer's Biography
by Leif Mills (Caedmon Whitby, $25.50)
is a long-awaited biography of the explorer always known as the "number two man" in Antarctic exploration, being understudy to the giants of the golden era--Scott, Shackleton and Mawson, yet involved in more expeditions individually than any of them.  The story of this "ideal second commander" makes good reading. 
Reviewed by Russell W. Gibbons.
                                                                               > READ THE FULL ACCOUNT 

The Village Carpenter who
Humbled the Astronomer Royal

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Longitude: the True Story of a Lone Genius who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of his Time
by Dava Sobel (Penguin, $9.50)
is a great story because it reminds us that institutional ignorance and bureaucratic stupidity did not end with Galileo and in fact continues today, but the all-time horror story for scientific inquiry was centered around John Harrison, a self-educated carpenter and amateur clockmaker of the early 18th Century.  The subtitle tells it all.   
Reviewed by Jason Lockwood.
                                                                                     > READ THE FULL ACCOUNT

Cultural Arrogance, Lies and
Cover-up by the 'Right People'

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Give Me My Father's Body:  The Life of Minik, the New York Eskimo
by Kenn Harper (Steerforth Press, $24.00)
is a long deserved small press edition of a book that was first privately published in 1990.  Kenn Harper has done the research on Minik and his Greenland tribe, so cruelly exploited by American explorers and insulted in the aftermath of an institutional museum community that treated them as but inventory.  It is also a story of sheer greed and theft.  
Reviewed by Ralph Myerson.

                                                                                     > READ THE FULL ACCOUNT


Copyright 2007 - The Frederick A. Cook Society