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Fatal North: Murder Survival Aboard USS Polaris First US Expedition North Pole Hardcover – February 1, 2001

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The Polaris expedition, the failed first U.S. expedition to the North Pole, is one of the strangest in the history of Arctic misadventure. It was marked by the mysterious death of its leader, Capt. Charles Francis Hall, and by bickering between different factions of the crew, both before and after their leader's death. After marooning 18 of its members, including officer George Tyson, on an ice floe (where they drifted for six months until rescued by another ship), the expedition ended when the vessel was abandoned by the remainder of the crew. In clean, fast-paced prose, Henderson (coauthor of And the Sea Will Tell) aptly conveys daily life on the ship and reconstructs its mood and politics vividly. He succeeds, too, at re-creating characters from among the crew, interspersing the thoughts of various men with dialogue, thereby immersing the reader in the story. Perhaps Henderson could have extracted more drama from the captain's death: in the final chapter, he explores in detail the possibility of foul play and the dying captain's suspicions that he was being poisoned, well after the description of the death itself. But he handles the story of the group that gets separated from the ship smoothly, having wisely focused on George Tyson, the leader of the stranded men, throughout the book. With narrative and descriptive skill, he chronicles the group's attempt to survive the Arctic winter and one another's treachery. In the end, Henderson casts significant doubt on the official inquiry into Hall's death, citing the inquiry's transcripts and drawing on the results of an autopsy performed on Hall's exhumed body in 1968 that reveal high levels of arsenic. Fans of adventure writing will appreciate this fine book. (Feb.)Forecast: Once again, two titles on the same subject will be released within shelving dates of one another; in this case, the rival, due out a week earlier, is Trial by Ice, by Richard Parry. Both are worthy books, though the Henderson is the worthier, but which the public flocks to remains to be seen.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

In June 1871, prominent Arctic explorer Charles Francis Hall set sail for the North Pole aboard the U.S.S. Polaris, never to return. After struggling for years to fund an expedition to the Pole, Congress had finally appropriated the funds to purchase a wooden "screw tug" that was later rechristened Polaris after the North Star. From the outset there was trouble between Hall, his scientists, and the crew. The captain turned out to be a drunkard, and the scientists were reluctant to obey orders. Upon his return from a two-week sledge journey, the seemingly healthy and vibrant Hall became violently ill and suddenly died. The captain thought the Polaris was sinking and jettisoned half of the ship's supplies onto the ice. Then, a fierce storm separated the ship from the shore and left half of the crew stranded on the ice for 197 Arctic winter days. Best-selling author and former journalism professor Henderson (And the Sea Will Tell), who served in the Arctic while in the navy, spent many weeks researching primary source materials in the National Archives. To solve the mystery surrounding Hall's death, he uses testimony from the Congressional inquest as well as a 1968 autopsy utilizing DNA evidence. A factual historical mystery written by a gifted storyteller, this book should be popular in public libraries. John Kenny, San Francisco P.L.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 306 pages
  • Publisher: New American Library; 1st edition (February 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0451409353
  • ISBN-13: 978-0451409355
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.1 x 8.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (92 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #269,780 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Bruce Henderson is the author or coauthor of more than twenty nonfiction books, including the #1 New York Times bestseller AND THE SEA WILL TELL, which was made into a highly-rated TV miniseries. His latest book, RESCUE AT LOS BANOS: THE MOST DARING PRISON CAMP RAID OF WORLD WAR II, was published by William Morrow in April 2015. General Colin Powell has called the Los Baños raid "a textbook operation for all ages and all armies." Henderson's previous book, HERO FOUND: THE GREATEST POW ESCAPE OF THE VIETNAM WAR, a national bestseller, told the true story of U.S. Navy pilot Dieter Dengler, with whom Henderson served aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ranger (CVA-61) during Vietnam. Henderson is also the author of DOWN TO THE SEA: AN EPIC STORY OF NAVAL DISASTER AND HEROISM IN WORLD WAR II. An award-winning journalist and author, Henderson is a member of the Authors Guild and the American Society of Journalists and Authors. He has taught reporting and writing courses at USC School of Journalism and Stanford University. Visit his website: www.BruceHendersonBooks.com.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Byron D. Athan on February 1, 2001
Format: Hardcover
In "Fatal North", Bruce Henderson's meticulous and thorough research takes an ill-fated polar expedition and makes it read like a who-dunnit. This is one of those books that takes the utmost of the reader's will power not to turn to the epilogue section at the end to see how it comes out.
Henderson's vivid description of the minutest details transports the reader to an ice floe in the Arctic and causes the reader to personally experience every physical, emotional and mental - the hopes, expectations, frustrations and relative successes - of the castaways. The contrast between courage and cowardice; competence and incompetence; loyalty and betrayal coupled with possible murder are the elements that make this book hard to put down once you start reading.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Tom Bruce on October 22, 2001
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I am a sucker for survival tales and this is one of the best I have read. Written by newspaperman Bruce Henderson, it is well researched and presented in a clear, concise manner with just the right amount of detail and suspense enough for several books. This was America's first attempt to reach the North Pole and unfortunately the government had to stick its hand in. It was during one of America's worst administrations -- that of U.S. Grant, and he and his cohorts bungled this venture, too. They spent the money to do it right, but put the wrong people in charge and put together contracts that spelled doom from the start. The hero of the tale is George Tyson, and what a hero he is...fighting almost unsurmountable odds as he struggles for months on an ice flow with 19 deserted shipmates in the Artic. There are enough villians -- a drunken sea captian, a murderous physician, a crew that refuses to take any orders. I highly recommend this one without fear of contradiction from anyone who appreciates a good adventure.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By S. G. Fortosis on December 5, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I believe that this excellent book should have received the coverage and the praise that books such as Endurance and Isaac's Storm received. It is at least as entertaining and well written, and even has a few unexpected surprises in the account. You cannot go wrong with this book if you have any interest in true adventure or exciting exploration accounts. Superb book.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Brian D. Rubendall HALL OF FAME on February 6, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Bruce Henderson manages to combine yet another polar exploration story (been a bunch of those published lately, hasn't there?) with an unexpected twist. He tells the story of the failed first U.S. expedition to discover the North Pole (circa 1870), which was grounded by something far more sinister than the usual mishaps. In fact its commander, the irrepressible Charles Hall, was mostly likely poisoned to death by one of his own shipmates. The story is primarily told through the eyes of Captain George Tyson, the honorable soul who Hall asked to join the mission and who was the unfortunate witness to the tragic and criminal events that took place on board the ship. Later, Tyson survived a harrowing six months drifting on an ice flow before he and eighteen compainions were rescued. That last part of the book deals with the inconclusive inquiry into Hall's death and the loss of the ship.
As polar exploration tales go, "Fatal North" is not one of the more interesting because the mission itself was such an abject failure. What is more interesting is Henderson's account of how such a mission can be destroyed by human avarice. Henderson is a fine writer and the prose in the book is crisp and lively. The text checks in at a snappy 290 pages that could be read in a single snow bound day.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By c_leong73 on March 26, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is an excellent account of the first state-sponsored American attempt to reach the North Pole. Headed by the single-minded Captain Charles Hall, this expedition was beset by problems from the start. There were serious conflicts of interest between those who were aiming for the Artic goal (Hall) and the scientific group, not to mention disastrous insubordination from crew-members who did not feel that Hall was qualified to commandeer the ship.
What makes this book unique from many other polar exploration works is that it also revolves around a more than century-old murder mystery on board the ship; that of Captain Hall himself. These two aspects provide a chilling account of what happens when there is lack of discipline and unwavering leadership on board any seabound vessel.
A terrific true account that reads like a novel. Great addition to any polar exploration library.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Gregory Hope VINE VOICE on February 4, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Henderson's account of the ill-starred Arctic voyage of the Polaris centers largely around the exploits and troubles of George Tyson, the only one of the ship's officers to survive the events with an untarnished reputation. The Eskimo hunters and their families give a good account of themselves as well. The same cannot be said for many of the remaining officers and crew. Henderson's narrative is fast-paced and engaging. A worthy armchair adventure for a cold winter eve with a bit of mystery to spice it up.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful By J. BURGESON on February 24, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Fatal North is a compelling account of Charles Francis Hall's last expedition. Bruce Henderson does a good job of painting the personalities of the officers and crew, a number of whom never got along with Hall -- or one another.
But but the lack of any footnotes nor any bibliography makes the reader wonder whether parts of this drama actually occurred, or whether they flowed from Henderson's pen. Those seaching for a more scholarly account would do well to stick with Chauncy Loomis' landmark work, "Weird and Tragic Shores," and, of course, Pierre Burton's "Arctic Grail," which has an excellent chapter on Hall.
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