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Captain Mac: The Life of Donald Baxter MacMillan, Arctic Explorer Hardcover – March 1, 2010
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From School Library Journal
Grade 5-9 This biography, written with obvious respect and admiration, covers the life and achievements of the Arctic explorer. MacMillan grew up reading about Arctic adventures and longed for the seafaring life, even after his father was lost at sea in 1883. After graduating from Bowdoin College with a degree in geology, he joined Robert Peary's 1908 expedition to the North Pole. This was followed by other scientific explorations into the Arctic's vast unknown regions, some by airplane, where Captain Mac filmed and photographed wildlife and icebergs that he would later incorporate into his popular lecture tours. Chapters open with a black-and-white photo that acts as a backdrop for Mac's next adventure. Archival photos with explanatory captions appear on nearly every page. The author skillfully weaves primary-source quotes with short, action-oriented sentences (e.g., Mac was lucky to escape alive!). The grimmer aspects of Arctic life (drownings, amputations, and eating the weakest dogs) are mentioned but not addressed in detail. This engaging biography is also a solid overview of an era of exploration that still captivates adventurous youths. It will find an audience among readers who enjoyed Katherine Kirkpatrick's The Snow Baby (Holiday House) or adventure novels such as Roland Smith's Peak (Harcourt, both 2007). Amy Pickett, Ridley High School, Folsom, PA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Based largely on interviews and primary sources, this profile authoritatively retraces the career of a dedicated Arctic explorer. MacMillan's career opened with a high spot, accompanying Robert Peary on the renowned polar expedition of 1908–09, and continued with regular scientific and exploratory voyages, overland journeys, and flights until 1957. “Captain Mac” left a huge archive of museum specimens, films, and photos—selections drawn from the latter appear on nearly every spread here. Later in life he also traded on his celebrity status not only to establish schools and health facilities for indigenous peoples, but also to champion both Peary's claim to have reached the pole and Matthew Henson's right to share the honors. Though Cowan occasionally overwrites (“The rhythmic ebb and flow of tides was as much a part of him as the rhythm of night following day.”) and readers may find that Macmillan's expeditions blend together after the first dozen or so, the severe hardships and wild beauties of the Arctic come through as strongly as her case for the significance of his achievements. Extensive back matter concludes. Grades 6-9. --John Peters
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Although I have read several books as well as seen films and documentaries about Shackleton and his Antarctic explorations, this was my first book about exploring the Arctic. When I read about great explorers like MacMillan or others, I am always struck by what seems to me the existence of an "explorer gene,"people whose personalities make them never content with a quiet life at home, but always craving the excitement of exploring dangerous places. Some of us, on the other hand, prefer to curl up and read about such adventures!
Born in 1874, MacMillan seemed to come into the world with the urge for adventure--his father was a sea captain, and he dreamed from an early age of a life at sea. He was especially fascinated with tales told by sailors he met of the wonders of the massive icebergs in the Arctic, and the quest to find the North Pole, and also devoured any books he could find about the Arctic. When he was orphaned at 11 years old, MacMillan did not abandon his dreams, working hard in high school and eventually enrolling at Bowdoin College (which then cost an enormous fee of $200 a year!) Money was a constant struggle, since he had to pay his own way. How was he ever going to get to the Arctic?
By chance MacMillan meets Robert Peary, the famous Arctic explorer, and tells him of his dreams of traveling to the Arctic, and a few years later, MacMillan, now a young teacher, was invited to join Peary's team. This was the first of more than twenty-five expeditions he took part in to the Arctic--eighteen of these as captain of his own custom-built ship, Bowdoin--over a fifty year period. There would have undoubtedly been even more had two world wars not intervened, making exploration impossible during those periods. Among his many accomplishments was pioneering the use of radio and aircraft in the Arctic, as well as writing a dictionary of the native language and contributing greatly to the cultural understanding of the native people of the area. Moreover, MacMillan lectured extensively, acquainting Americans around the country with Northern peoples' cultures through the movies and photos he took on his many expedition.
This well-researched and handsomely illustrated biography relies extensively on primary sources, including MacMillan's many journals, books, writings, and personal photographs. The author keeps the narrative exciting by including lots of fascinating anecdotes, such as encounters with walrus herds or how MacMillan brought an orphaned baby polar bear into the lodge as a pet (until the polar bear quickly grew too big, and was released). The book features numerous appendices, among them highlights of MacMillan's expeditions, major awards and recognition, an author's note about how she witnessed MacMillan setting off for one of his expeditions as a young girl, a selected bibliography on MacMillan, and additional resources for young people on Arctic exploration, including on-line sources.
The book follows Donald Baxter MacMillan's life from boyhood until death. Orphaned at twelve, Mac worked his way through Bowdoin College, became a teacher, and later joined Robert Peary's 1908-1909 North Pole expedition. Fascinated with the Arctic, Mac went on to explore and research the region for nearly fifty years.
Not only was Mac a gifted explorer, he was a humanitarian as well. With the help of donations, Mac supplied materials to build the first school in northern Labrador. He supported the school for the rest of his life. Equally as impressive were Mac's efforts to see that Matthew Henson,(an African American explorer), received the recognition that he had been denied due to his race.
I would recommend this book to fans of biographies and true adventure stories.