In the late nineteenth century, people were obsessed by one of the last unmapped areas of the globe: the North Pole. Read more...
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In the late nineteenth century, people were obsessed by one of the last unmapped areas of the globe: the North Pole. No one knew what existed beyond the fortress of ice rimming the northern oceans, although theories abounded. The foremost cartographer in the world, a German named August Petermann, believed that warm currents sustained a verdant island at the top of the world. National glory would fall to whoever could plant his flag upon its shores.
James Gordon Bennett, the eccentric and stupendously wealthy owner ofThe New York Herald, had recently captured the world's attention by dispatching Stanley to Africa to find Dr. Livingstone. Now he was keen to re-create that sensation on an even more epic scale. So he funded an official U.S. naval expedition to reach the Pole, choosing as its captain a young officer named George Washington De Long, who had gained fame for a rescue operation off the coast of Greenland. De Long led a team of 32 men deep into uncharted Arctic waters, carrying the aspirations of a young country burning to become a world power. On July 8, 1879, the USSJeannetteset sail from San Francisco to cheering crowds in the grip of "Arctic Fever."
The ship sailed into uncharted seas, but soon was trapped in pack ice. Two years into the harrowing voyage, the hull was breached. Amid the rush of water and the shrieks of breaking wooden boards, the crew abandoned the ship. Less than an hour later, theJeannettesank to the bottom, and the men found themselves marooned a thousand miles north of Siberia with only the barest supplies. Thus began their long march across the endless ice a frozen hell in the most lonesome corner of the world. Facing everything from snow blindness and polar bears to ferocious storms and frosty labyrinths, the expedition battled madness and starvation as they desperately strove for survival.
With twists and turns worthy of a thriller, In The Kingdom of Iceis a spellbinding tale of heroism and determination in the most unforgiving territory on Earth."
Marooned in the ice
BookPage Nonfiction Top Pick, August 2014
On July 8, 1879, cheering throngs watched as the USS Jeannette set out from San Francisco and sailed off like a “long dark pencil of shadow standing straight up against the vivid sunset.” Under the command of officer George Washington De Long, the steamer and its crew were attempting to reach the North Pole and confirm a then--popular theory that the polar sea remained ice-free and open north of the Bering Strait. The expedition was funded by James Gordon Bennett Jr., the wealthy and eccentric owner of the New York Herald, who had also financed Stanley’s mission to Africa to find Dr. Livingstone.
Drawing on newly available letters, diaries, journals and other archives, crackerjack storyteller Hampton Sides (Hellhound on His Trail) vividly chronicles the tale of the Jeannette, the excitement and optimism surrounding the expedition, the contentious arguments regarding scientific theories about the Arctic and the fate of the ship and its crew.
The expedition’s great hope of sailing unimpeded by the ravages of ice floes is shattered when the Jeannette becomes trapped in ice, and the crew must spend long, lonely weeks in unending darkness jammed fast. Two years into the voyage, ice breaches the hull, the ship sinks, and the crew finds itself thousands of miles from land.
De Long leads a heroic march toward safety over unforgiving ice and in conditions that punish every crew member’s body. The tale of De Long’s struggle for survival is also the tale of his wife Emma’s struggle to maintain heroic hope during his absence. Weaving her letters to her husband—which he never received—through the narrative, Sides captures this gnawing anxiousness and stoic optimism.
Compulsively readable, In the Kingdom of Ice brilliantly recreates a world, invites us to enter it and to experience the isolation, fear and hope of the people in it, and leads us back to our worlds with a clearer understanding of what motivates those who undertake daunting but heroic challenges.