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Ice Blink: The Tragic Fate of Sir John Franklin's Lost Polar Expedition Hardcover – February 1, 2000

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Hardcover, February 1, 2000
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (February 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0471377902
  • ISBN-13: 978-0471377900
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,777,009 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

By the mid-19th century, after decades of polar exploration, the fabled Northwest Passage seemed within reach. In 1845 the British Admiralty assembled the largest expedition yet, refitting two ships with steam engines and placing the seasoned if somewhat lackluster Sir John Franklin in command of the 128-man expedition. After sailing into Baffin Bay, they were never heard from again.

Drawing on early accounts from relief expeditions as well as recent archeological evidence, Scott Cookman reconstructs a chronicle of the expedition in Ice Blink. Cookman, a journalist with articles in Field & Stream and other magazines, excels when firmly grounded in the harrowing reality of 19th-century Arctic exploration. When he speculates about what happened to the Franklin expedition, however, he is on less solid ground and his writing suffers.

Particularly overwrought is the promised "frightening new explanation" for the expedition's demise. Cookman suggests that it was caused by the "grotesque handiwork" of an "evil" man, Stephan Goldner, who had supplied its canned foods. This is hardly new. As early as 1852, investigators determined that the expedition's canned goods were probably inferior and canceled provisioning contracts with Goldner. How a hundred men survived for nearly three years despite lead poisoning and botulism remains a mystery. In the end, as Cookman himself acknowledges, the expedition was ultimately doomed by its reliance on untested technology such as the steam engine, armor plating, and canned provisions. These criticisms aside, Ice Blink is an interesting narrative of this enduring symbol of polar exploration and disaster. --Pete Holloran

From Publishers Weekly

In 1845, Captain Sir John Franklin sailed into Arctic waters, the latest of many navigators to seek a "Northwest Passage" from the Atlantic to the Pacific. With him were 128 stalwarts of the Royal Navy; up-to-date maps and sophisticated tools; three years' worth of ample provisions; and two advanced ships, iron-clad, steam-heated and steam-powered. The ships were never seen again. In 1859, Lieutenant William Hobson, sunburnt and frostbitten, trekked across remote King William Island and found the last remains of the expedition: two notes attached to a cairn, a small, stranded boat and human bones, some showing evidence of cannibalism. Freelance writer Cookman's ably researched, sometimes eloquent account follows the doomed voyage, then proposes to solve the enduring mystery. Stuck in the ice, the men of the H.M.S. Terror and Erebus lasted months with barely a look outdoors; when cooking fuel ran short, something sickened the men. Cookman identifies the culprit as botulism, conveyed by the canned goods furnished by contractor Stephan Goldner. "Pinching pennies and cutting corners," Goldner defrauded the Navy by giving Franklin's men canned meats and vegetables "shoddily made and improperly sealed." Cookman drapes his central story with short accounts of the people involved, including Captain Franklin ("plodding, sober," and "fame-hungry" but steadfast) and Goldner, whose record of defaults and frauds (delivering ruptured cans, missing deadlines, packaging bones as meat) led the Navy to cease doing business with him in 1852. Hard-bitten readers who last year clamored over Shackleton's adventures will take to this grimmer tale of unscrupulous contractors, diligent historians and brave British explorers who never made it. (Mar.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Customer Reviews

The book could have used a few more maps.
Matthew Demakos
Scott Cookmans book puts many other accounts to shame in its analysis of a real-life horror story.
I love to read historical books about explorations.
Terry Bardy

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 28 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 29, 2000
Format: Hardcover
As a compelling new study of potential causes for the failure of the Franklin expedition, I could not put the book down and quite enjoyed it. The experience was marred, however, by constant irratation at the grammatical and stylistic flaws (for instance, after repeatedly explaining scurvy as a vitamin C deficiency-caused disease, it at one point ungrammatically states that ship's biscuit causes scurvy). The author also has tendency to indulge in melodramatic speculation (a captain leaving his ship with a tear in his eye, etc.) into the actions and emotions of people who left no record of such. I felt this in particular weakened the work as a whole, undermining it as a legitimate piece of academia. Additionally, archaic lingual affectations (i.e.; "sore afraid") further distance this work from serious scholarship. Lastly, the conclusions tend to be highly redundant and overstated, as though the work had not been sufficiently proofread or edited. Overall, I think a thoughtful edit would have improved the texture of the work, although I did still find it quite engaging and thought-provoking.
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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Charlotte Austin on February 15, 2000
Format: Hardcover
What went wrong? How could 129 officers and men with the most technologically advanced ships and enough canned, baked and pickled food for three years on a journey to find the North West Passage in 1845 - vanish? There had been eight previous polar expeditions since 1819 and only 17 deaths out of 513 men. This was one of the greatest British navel disasters.
Ice Blink is about mismanagement, oversights, government foibles, prejudice and incompetence. The lessons of the Sir John Franklin's Expedition in 1845 are still sadly relevant. The same problems that doomed those men in the far North are around today. Governments and corporations often award contracts to the lowest bidder, prejudice means the right people do not get hired, top heavy management creates inefficiencies and over reliance on technology obscures common sense.
The lowest bidding manufacturer, Stephen Godner's Canned Food, was the exclusive supplier of canned food for the expedition. No one in the navy bothered to check the filthy conditions at this factory. The canned food arrived just a few hours before the launch, avoiding close inspection. Sir John Barrow, Second Secretary of the Admiralty, hired men of English birth and Anglican faith for the expedition, and dismissed ten experienced Scottish Seamen. One officer was in charge of four men.
Admiral Barrow and Captain Franklin believed in the latest machinery. Ships, scientific knowledge and canned food would lead them to victory. There were no hunters on board or native guides used. Despite all this, Ice Blink is also about the bravery, loyalty and resourcefulness of the men who served on the expedition. They did everything they could to survive and to help each other.
Scott Cookman brings alive the times that made this expedition possible.
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Russell A. Potter on February 17, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Cookman has certainly done some worthwhile new research; his study of Goldner and his patent canning factory is well-documented and backed by suggestive (though far from definitive) evidence. Goldner's tinned foods, supplied to the ill-fated Franklin expedition to the Arctic in 1845, certainly contributed to the disaster (they have already been fingered for causing lead poisoning).
Cookman, however, rushes breathlessly past all other factors that might have contributed to Franklin's failure, and ends up damaging his case by overstating it, and by expecting that his one explanation -- botulism -- will solve all the mystery and tie up all the loose ends. Cookman's lurid prose doesn't help matters, portraying the admittedly callous and greedy canner Goldner as an evil maniac of unintentionally comic proportions -- right up there with Lex Luthor.
There is some good and valuable research in this book, and in places the Franklin saga is ably retold, but the mixture of morality play and science lecture ultimately becomes rather tedious.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Seth J. Frantzman HALL OF FAME on November 26, 2003
Format: Paperback
The Fate of the Franklin expedition will most likely always be a mystery. This wonderful, speculative account is one of the best. The author does a step by step look at all the factors and issues leading to the disaster that cost the lives on 129 British Navy personnel in search of the Northwest passage. Franklin had left England in 1845 with two of the best equipped ships ever put to sea for arctic exploration, he had experienced officers and a compliment of 129 men. They were never seen again. Subsequently 50 expeditions searched and found only scraps of clues as to their disappearance.
This book claims the culprit was most likely Botulism in the canned meat. This speculation runs contradictory to that lead poisoning thesis put forward in `Frozen in Time' and the fact that admiralty investigations proved the meat tins were not thoroughly sealed(thus Botulism couldn't have formed). Nevertheless this is one of the best books on the fate of the expedition. The author describes the final `death march' south along King William Island and the subsequent cannibalism that took place. Excellent diagrams bring the ships to life and maps show the final route of Franklins last survivors. A must read for those interested in arctic survival and the riddle of Sir John Franklin.
Seth J Frantzman November 2003
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