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The Man Who Mapped the Arctic: The Intrepid Life of George Back, Franklin's Lieutenant Hardcover – July 1, 2003


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 308 pages
  • Publisher: Raincoast Books; 1ST edition (July 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1551926482
  • ISBN-13: 978-1551926483
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.2 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,568,466 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Steele's literate, coherent biography introduces one of the undeservedly obscure figures in arctic exploration. George Back joined the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars; promptly captured, he spent five years as a POW. He became a lieutenant and went back to sea after the war, but the heart of his career lay in the search for the Northwest Passage. He was second-in-command to John Franklin, who had more enthusiasm than ability, on two overland expeditions from Canada, one of which ended in disaster. He commanded a third overland journey and also a peril-ridden voyage by sea. Throughout, he proved courageous, durable, and civilized in his dealings with voyageurs, soldiers, Indians, and Eskimos. He survived the inadequacy of nineteenth-century equipment and knowledge of the Arctic to retire to England, where he became a mentor to a later generation of arctic explorers and thereafter virtually disappeared from the pages of history--until now. Roland Green
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Arctic Voice Earl on November 29, 2004
Format: Paperback
As a resident of the Alaskan Arctic, I find it refreshing to read a book by a biographer who does not just sit at the computer, or camp out in a stately library somewhere. Steele, a doctor and mountaineer, as well as a biographer, actually went out and retraced the distant and remote routes across Northern Canada --the same routes of his subject--British explorer George Back. He followed the exploits of Back on foot, and also by canoe, boat and plane, including a forced landing on a remote lake.

Steele also traveled to Back's birthplace in the Cheshire area of England, and the areas of France where he was held as a prisoner of war well before he reached he age of 20.

Much has been written about a contemporary of Back's, the courageous John Franklin, but much less about Back himself. Perhaps this is because Franklin and his 129 crewmen perished in a tragic search for the Northwest Passage. Steele's book should help Arctic enthusiasts learn more about Back, Franklin's Lieutenant on three earlier Arctic expeditions.

Back, who served in the British Navy as a teenager, and spent five years in French prisons, showed early maturity, a very hearty constitution and a strong will. He successfully explored vast areas of Northern Canada and discovered and traveled the Back River, including shooting its 83 rapids.

Steele, reflecting his medical background, notes that Back died in his bed at a relatively advanced age (for that time) of 82 years old. Back kept very active, and was also a fine mapmaker and artist.

Steele also provides a social and economic profile of England in the early and mid 1800's, to show the rather limited options for many bright and ambitious young citizens.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Paul Weiss on April 16, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
It takes considerable flair and panache to write history in a way that makes it read like a novel and not very many authors have that ability. Canada's Pierre Berton has it! Dava Sobel and Simon Winchester are certainly up to the task! In "The Man Who Mapped the Arctic", Peter Steele demonstrated his rightful claim to membership on that short list. Steele, a physician who has spent most of his life in the North and an arctic adventurer and mountaineer in his own right, has eloquently told us the astonishing tale of George Back, Franklin's undeservedly obscure and unsung Lieutenant and his astonishing exploits in exploration that rival Samuel Hearne's or Lewis and Clark's in their extraordinary scope and difficulty.Read more ›
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 8, 2003
Format: Hardcover
An incredibly well researched book. The Man Who Mapped the Arctic is a must read for anyone interested in Canadian and European history or Arctic exploration. This is not dull Canadian history! Peter Steele's writing is witty and engaging.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Charles S. Fisher on July 4, 2011
Format: Paperback
Having had a brush with death on the Coppermine in 1969, I didn't want to follow in the footsteps of the hardware store owner from Yellowknife who lost his life on the Back (Great Fish River) a few years earlier. Eighty three rapids was a bit too formidable. I am not sure who runs the river now in rolling kayaks, crash helmets and other high tech gear. Maybe it is no longer thought to be challenging.

Peter Steele's book is a straight forward presentation of George Back in his encounter with the Canadian arctic. A seaman, he took to traveling by foot and seemed to have done a good job of it despite the flaw which Steele mentions over and over again of relying on native hunters rather than learning to survive on one's own as John Rae so successfully did some years later. The explorers along with their voyageurs were a hardy lot as were the mostly unsung Hudson Bay employees who did every thing the explorers did but did it in their daily life and without being heralded. So what is Backs achievement? As an explorer, not much. He mapped a bit of the arctic coast. He made both a descent and ascent of the river which became named after him----and of course who were these arrogant Englishmen to name what already had names and why don't the current leaders of Nunavut return to the original names----the great fish river or even better Thlew-ee-choh---. Back accompanied Franklin twice despite their underlying conflict. But Back always knew his place. His trips with Franklin give lie to the cliché that Franklin was a softy. He trudged along, suffering privation with the best of them, although the officers only carried twenty pound loads, rather than the ninety of their men. It is even more of a puzzle, all the luxury items found on the sledge with Franklin's dead men.
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