From Publishers Weekly
On April 21, 1908, American explorer Frederick Cook reached the North Pole. A year later, fellow Arctic pioneer Robert Peary denounced him, claiming to have reached the Pole first. In this first-rate tale of adventure, bravery and perfidy, Henderson (And the Sea Will Tell) attempts to identify the winner. In 1891, Cook, recovering from the deaths of both his wife and child and seeking adventure, was hired by Peary as chief medical officer on an expedition to Greenland. The men clashed, setting the stage for later conflict (and providing excellent fodder for this exciting book). Hooked on extreme cold weather quests, Cook journeyed to the Antarctic and was also the first to summit Mount McKinley. In Henderson's telling, Peary too craved adventure, but his insatiable desire for fame was his driving force. "Remember, mother, I must have fame," Henderson quotes Peary saying in a letter to his mother. When Peary learned Cook had reached the Pole before him, Peary painted Cook as a liar and a fraud. According to Henderson, Cook reacted to the barrage by going into seclusion, and when he emerged, it was too late to save his reputation. Peary's claim to the Pole was later dismissed, but Cook's achievement was never recognized. This adventure yarn delivers as both a cautionary tale and a fitting memorial to polar exploration. Illus.
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In April 1908, Frederick Cook arrived at the North Pole. In April 1909, so did Robert Peary. Or did they? Nearly a century later, the geographical jury is still out on who was first. Henderson, experienced at writing boreal sagas (e.g., Fatal North, 2001, an account of an 1871 arctic disaster), tenders no verdict himself. Rather, he synthesizes a flowing narrative from the accounts set down by Cook and Peary as well as those of ancillary figures, such as Matthew Henson. That approach lets readers form their own conclusions; one that many will make is that Peary was an obsessive fame seeker with malignant resentments. Peary was miserly, held many grudges, detested anyone poaching on "his" North Pole, and committed underhanded deeds, such as forcing Cook's records of attaining the pole to be abandoned on Greenland. (They have never been recovered.) Portraying Cook in a more sympathetic light, Henderson traces the deterioration of Cook's once-friendly relations with Peary, ably recapturing the rivalry that remains the most acrimonious in the annals of arctic adventure. Gilbert Taylor
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