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Weird and Tragic Shores: The Story of Charles Francis Hall, Explorer (Modern Library Exploration) Paperback – April 4, 2000

4.3 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Fascinating."--The Boston Globe

"Spellbinding."--Library Journal

"One of the best Arctic narratives ever written."--David Roberts

From the Inside Flap

In 1860, fifteen years after Sir John Franklin's ill-fated expedition disappeared in the Arctic, a Cincinnati businessman named Charles Francis Hall set out to locate and rescue the expedition's survivors. He was an amateur explorer, without any scientific training or experience, but he was driven by a sense of personal destiny and of religious and patriotic mission. Despite the odds against him, he made three forays into the far North, the final--and fatal--one taking him farther north than any westerner had ever gone before. But Hall was suddenly taken ill on that voyage and died under mysterious circumstances.
Ninety-seven years later, Chauncey Loomis headed an expedition to Hall's grave in northwestern Greenland. He exhumed Hall's frozen body and performed an autopsy. His findings suggest that the investigators of Hall's death nervously sidestepped the damning evidence. Loomis has written a masterful biography-cum-mystery that brilliantly evokes the lure of the Arctic and the brutal contest between man and nature.
With a new Introduction by Andrea Barrett, author of "The Voyage of the Narwhal
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Product Details

  • Series: Modern Library Exploration
  • Paperback: 392 pages
  • Publisher: Modern Library (April 4, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 037575525X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375755255
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #537,176 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Susan R. Matthews on June 12, 2000
Format: Paperback
Charles Francis Hall was an odd sort, but a man whose experiences grant us access to the information then preserved within the Inuit collective memory as regards encounters with the Franklin expedition -- and, significantly, other expeditions as well.
While Cook's experience with his Inuit contracts proved ultimately frustrating to him, subsequent analysis of what he heard may provide genuine information on what went on with the Franklin expedition (and what went wrong).
The book is well written, interesting, and contains high drama and Artic adventure all its own. I would emphatically read it in concert with David Woodman's "Strangers Among Us," a careful analysis of the Inuit testimony received by Hall that provides what may be the last word on the fate of the Franklin expedition from the descendants of people who made periodic contact with the men from the Erebus and Terror at various points during the painful deterioration of ships and crew.
This book, now back in print, should not be missed by people with an interest in nineteenth century British and U.S. experiences in the Arctic. It has drama and human interest all its own, and deserves its place in the literature of Polar exploration in general, John Franklin's last expedition in particular.
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Format: Paperback
Chauncey Loomis' Weird and Tragic Shores is indeed all that. It tells the story of businessman and amateur explorer Charles Francis Hall. He goes in search of traces (possibly survivors?) of Sir John Franklin's expedition. The third trip goes wrong and Charles Francis Hall dies and is buried in the North. This book is driven by the personality of Hall and it is quite the personality. He is obsessed, unlucky, amateurish at times, belligerent, and stubborn, but the best word that could be one used to describe him is one that is applied to the Arctic itself, weird. The author captures the personality vividly with contemporary accounts, particulary those of Hall himself. It is an interesting book of a footnote character in the great age of Arcitc exploration, and sometimes through these footnotes in history one can see the truth behind what drives the explorers in its rawest form. An entertaining addition to the annals of history of the North.
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Format: Paperback
This biography of C.F. Hall and his three journeys to the Arctic is an exceptional work because of the interweaving of Loomis' careful research with a captivating narrative that keeps begging to be read. A fine annotated bibliography and unobtrusive and informative footnotes keeps the reader aware of the extensive examination of both primary (mostly contemporaneous Journals by Hall and his associates) and secondary sources that has gone into the spinning of this yarn. The many mid-19th Century characters who are woven into this tragic biography come to life in what a lesser author might have molded into a tedious and technical text. Two nicely done maps are very useful aids to those unfamiliar with the details of the Canadian Arctic region. I found myself referring to them frequently. A group of historic photographs serve to bring even more vitality to the tale. Two thumbs up!
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Format: Paperback
This true accounting about the obsession Charles Francis Hall, a somewhat obscure Cincinatti businessman, had for Arctic exploration and its ultimate personal tragedy is fascinating.
The author Loomis trys to convey the environment of thought that created the appeal the Arctic had for Hall. The sentiment was much more pervasively Christian during the 1860-1870s when Hall made his 3 trips to the north and was able to get farther north than any Westerner had until then. In the Afterword, Loomis describes some of the appeal the vast, unexplored Artic must have had for Westerners. The Artic was both magnificent and terrifying, it was as Byron wrote "All that expands the spirit, yet appals." Loomis explains that the public had an asthetic of the sublime and this went a long way to explain to me the attraction Polar exploration must have had for Hall. But as a modern day mountaineer Fred Beckey said, "Man is not always a welcome visitor in a kingdom he cannot control."
The American explorer Kane, who died at age 36 was so revered by the American public for his exploits, that when his body was brought to New Orleans and then went up the Mississippi to it's ultimate burial location, people lined the river the entire way to bid him farewell. This helps explain the regard the public had for explorers (especially the ones who wrote accessible books).
Hall leads the first two expeditions in search of one of the overriding mysteries of the time, what happened to the members of the British expedition led by Sir John Franklin. The last and fatal voyage was in search of the North Pole. However, because of the funding by the US government of the expedition, the loss of Hall and loss of the ship itself, there was a US Naval inquiry.
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I had a hard time deciding between 3 & 4 stars on this one, but once I thought more about what I consider deficits, I decided to go with 3.

It may be an indication that I've spent too much time reading Polar Exploration books, but Loomis leaves out some things that not only came out in other books about Hall's expidition (esp. the third), but came out in his chapter on the investigation after the survivors came home. As an example, Budington's drinking. Other books have gone into considerably more detail about that, and Loomis describes how it came out in the investigation, but as he writes about the expedition as it happens, it rates barely a mention. It's almost as if Loomis didn't know about it until it came out in the queries, which is ridiculous. Whatever the conclusion of what really killed Hall, the fact that the 2nd in command was a drunken sot surely should be mentioned, especially in the incredibly confined, madness-inducing "world" of a people locked into the Arctic ice.

Other glaring gaps come in the form of statements he makes but does nothing to explain or back up. One example; when, on the last expedition, the ship is anchored to a berg, a storm comes up & yanks it off, setting it adrift. Now, the ship was carefully anchored to the berg when they realized they were stuck for the winter; the captain & crew put it there with care & aforethought. When it comes off, however, Loomis states that "[the ship] could not be steered" & talks about them being frantic, drifting helplessly amongst the menacing ice. Why?? He never mentions anything being broken except the anchoring ropes. Why all of a sudden was the ship helpless, when everything was fine when they settled down? Is this some sort of literary license to make it more exciting?
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