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The Ice Master: The Doomed 1913 Voyage of the Karluk Paperback – October 10, 2001

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Hachette Books; Reprint edition (October 10, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786884460
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786884469
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (100 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #313,554 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Eighty-five years after a famous but ill-equipped Canadian Arctic expedition of 1913 had sacrificed 16 lives, some artifacts appeared on an Internet auction site. They had originated at a "ghost camp," discovered in 1924, where four of the expedition's 28 men, one woman, and two children had perished. Jennifer Niven has completed the unfulfilled mission of survivor William McKinlay to produce a "more honest and revealing account" of the wreck of the Karluk and its aftermath.

The explorers became split into several dispersed groups living "in the shadow of death." Their simultaneously grim and gruesome experiences are interwoven in this minutely detailed and atmospheric retelling, created by combining and comparing firsthand accounts and other sources. The characters are vividly re-created, from the expedition's self-interested leader, whom McKinlay called "a consummate liar and cheat," to the heroic ship's master, who struggled over 700 miles to organize a rescue. Supplemented by haunting and fascinating photographs, The Ice Master makes for harrowing and compulsive reading. This is a momentous story of the Arctic; of adventure, misadventure, and the heights of human endurance. But it is also a story of human failings and the waste of young lives, as poignant now as it was when it was big news in 1914. --Karen Tiley, --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

The 1913 Canadian Arctic Expedition was perhaps the worst-planned arctic exploration in history. The captain declared the ship unfit for the voyage upon seeing it, and the crew consisted of young sailors who had no arctic experience, and scientists who would be better off teaching in a classroom than searching for an undiscovered arctic continent. Niven's first book, unlike the voyage, is well-researchedDand it's thorough. Screenwriter Niven captivates with her reconstruction of the doomed crew's efforts to survive the harshness of the polar winter, disease, hunger and their own clashing personalities. She expertly captures the feelings of the crew about their situation and about each other, and meticulously recounts the daily activities of the 25 crew members (11 survived), during their long stay as castaways on a small arctic Island. The story does read slowly at points, especially near the beginning of the book. The pace picks up as the book progresses, with the most exciting part being the heroic account of the captain's 700-mile trek from the crew's camp to Siberia in search of a ship that he could use to rescue his men.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Jennifer Niven lives in Los Angeles (where her film Velva Jean Learns to Drive won an Emmy Award). Even though she's always wanted to be a Charlie's Angel, her true passion is writing, and her first book, The Ice Master, was released in November 2000 and named one of the top ten nonfiction books of the year by Entertainment Weekly. She a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writer, and the book has been translated into eight languages, including German, French, Italian, Portuguese, Chinese, Danish, and Icelandic.

Jennifer and The Ice Master have appeared in Newsweek, Entertainment Weekly, Talk, Glamour, The New Yorker, Outside, The New York Times Book Review, The London Daily Mail, The London Times, and Writer's Digest, among others. Dateline NBC, the Discovery Channel, and the History Channel have featured The Ice Master and Jennifer in hour-long documentaries, she and the book have appeared frequently on the BBC, and the book has been the subject of numerous German, Canadian, and British television documentaries. The Ice Master has been nominated for awards by the American Library Association and Book Sense, and received Italy's esteemed Gambrinus Giuseppe Mazzotti Prize for 2002.

Jennifer's second book, Ada Blackjack -- an inspiring true story of the woman the press called "the female Robinson Crusoe" -- has been translated into Chinese, French, and Estonian, was a Book Sense Top Ten Pick, and was named by The Wall Street Journal as one of the Top Five Arctic books.

Her memoir, The Aqua-Net Diaries: Big Hair, Big Dreams, Small Town, was published in February 2010 by Gallery Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, and was optioned by Warner Bros. as a television series.

Her first novel, Velva Jean Learns to Drive (based on the Emmy Award-winning film of the same name), was released July 2009 by Penguin/Plume. It was an Indie Pick for the August 2009 Indie Next List and was also a Costco Book of the Month. The second book in the Velva Jean series, Velva Jean Learns to Fly, was released by Penguin/Plume in August 2011, and the third book in the series, Becoming Clementine, was published in September 2012. The fourth Velva Jean novel, American Blonde, is available now.

Jennifer's first novel for young adult readers. All the Bright Places, will debut from Knopf/Random House January 6, 2015. The book tells the story of a girl who learns to live from a boy who intends to die, the foreign rights have already sold to twenty-eight territories, and the movie rights have been optioned with Elle Fanning attached to star. All the Bright Places was also named the #1 title on the Winter 2014-2015 Kids' Indie Next List. As a companion to the book, Jennifer has created Germ (, a web magazine for and run by girls (and boys) -- high school and beyond -- that celebrates beginnings, futures, and all the amazing and agonizing moments in between.

With her mother, author Penelope Niven (, Jennifer has conducted numerous seminars in writing and addressed audiences around the world.

Customer Reviews

Jennifer Niven's extensive research for this book is impressive.
Lisa A. Ferrara
This is a "must" book for those who enjoy great adventures on the high seas.
The story is a compelling page turner that I finished in a marathon read.
Ellen Nelson

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Orrin C. Judd VINE VOICE on December 18, 2000
Format: Hardcover
A season in the Arctic is a great test of character. One may know a man better after six months with him beyond the Arctic circle than after a lifetime of acquaintance in cities. There is something--I know not what to call it--in those frozen spaces, that brings a man face to face with himself and with his companions; if he is a man, the man comes out; and, if he is a cur, the cur shows as quickly. -Admiral Peary
One's first impulse is to dismiss this book as just another quickie attempt to cash in on the Endurance craze, but the story of the Karluk and its crew is quite amazing in its own right and first time author Jennifer Niven does a terrific job telling it. One year before Ernest Shackleton and Endurance set out for Antarctica, Arctic explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson, working under the auspices of the Canadian government, assembled an expedition intended to prove that a continent lay beneath the Arctic ice. On June 17, 1913, the H.M.C.S. Karluk, captained by Robert Abram Bartlett, set sail from British Columbia with a complement of 25, including Stefansson, sailors, scientists, and Eskimos (including a mother and two young daughters), plus sled dogs and a cat. Within the six weeks the ship was frozen fast in the ice north of Alaska and Stefansson, taking three men and several sleds with dogs, had abandoned the rest of the Canadian Arctic Expedition, setting out for the mainland to continue his exploration.
For the next five months, the Karluk drifted westward with the ice floe, before finally being crushed and sunk on January 11, 1914, just east of Wrangel Island, which lies north of Siberia.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By "bobbie-jo" on November 15, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Jennifer Niven's spellbinding account of the tragic sinking of the Karluk and her stranded crew will keep you captivated ... if not huddled in a blanket and reaching for a steaming cup of hot chocolate!
While the true story itself is nearly impossible to comprehend in our modern age of satellite communications and radar systems, Ms. Niven's riveting narration brings the bleak, bitter, isolated world of the early 1900s naval explorer to life once again in this thrilling nonfiction account of the doomed Canadian Arctic Expedition. The twenty-odd men, one woman and two children who find themselves facing the ultimate test of survival in nature's starkest of settings, as far removed from civilization as can be imagined, will truly amaze, humble and inspire you.
Ms. Niven's obvious love of her subject matter, as well as her years of painstaking research, have resulted in a most thought-provoking and highly-emotional work which captures the essence of the human spirit.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Clint Hunter on November 12, 2000
Format: Hardcover
On June 17, 1913, the Canadian Arctic Expedition contingent headed by Vilhajalmur Stefansson on board the ship "Karluk" embarked on its mission to find an unknown continent thought to lie somewhere in the unexplored region between Alaska and the North Pole. In mid-August the "Karluk" amid increasingly worsening weather conditions became trapped in the Arctic ice floe and drifted helplessly with the winds and currents. Eventually Stefansson decided to leave the ship and with part of the crew and Eskimo guides work his way toward land. Under the command of Captain Robert Bartlett, the "Karluk" and her remaining crew continued to drift north and west until becomming hopelessly ice bound near Wangel Island north of Siberia. Here the ship was destroyed and sunk by the crush of ice leaving Bartlett and his crew stranded in the frozen wilderness. While the crew struggled for existence at their base camps, Bartlett, the Ice Master, undertook an incredible 700 mile trek through the icy wilderness of Siberia to seek rescue. Jennifer Niven has used diaries, letters, and interviews with survivors and descendants to construct the remarkable details of the crew's fight to live and Bartlett's amazing journey.
The events depicted in this book are all the more remarkable because they are true. The ability to cope with suffering, the perseverance in the face of overwhelming hardship, the manifestations of human strengths and weaknesses under pressure, and the overpowering will to live shown by Bartlett and his crew are almost beyond belief.
The story ebbs and flows with the fate of the men. Like their unwanted repetitious and monotonous existence, the narration sometimes tends to become somewhat tedous. However, those who like true stories of exploration, adventure and survival will savor this book.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Carol S. VINE VOICE on February 6, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Jennifer Niven's experience as a screenwriter stands her in good stead in "The Ice Master," a gripping tale of the doomed Arctic voyage of the ship Karluk. It is nearly impossible to imagine how anyone survived the Karluk, a rickety ship unsuited to the rigors of Arctic travel, manned by an ill-equipped & inexperienced group. The ship quickly became immobilized by an ice floe, at which point the expedition's "leader" callously abandoned his men. Embedded in the floe, the ship floated aimlessly while the remaining crew and passengers struggled to survive. After enduring months in the ice-locked ship, the Karluk was destroyed by shifting ice masses and sank, forcing the group to abandon ship and make camp on top of the ice. Later, the survivors trekked across treacherous ice until they reached a small, nearly uninhabitable island. There they hung on for many more months until their rescue, suffering from starvation, disease, frostbite, despair, and infighting. Niven's vivid descriptions of the horrors & deprivations faced by these individuals leave you awestruck at the strength of the human body and the power of the human spirit. Surviving by chewing seal blubber and walrus hides - snow blindness - a mysterious illness that left most of the survivors nearly incapacitated - hunting for game on a desolate and barren Arctic island with a sharpened stick - enduring below-zero temperatures and gale-force winds & snow for weeks at a time - 24-hour darkness in the winter - amputating frostbitten tissue with a pocket knife - it is nearly unbelievable. (Also unbelievable but infinitely more cheering is that the Karluk's little black cat managed to survive the ordeal, too.) Truly a book you cannot put down, that takes you outside your world & transports you to another place and time, and leaves you marveling at the good and evil that reside inside us all.
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