In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette Hardcover – January 1, 2014
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An Amazon Best Book of the Month, August 2014: In the last few decades of the 19th century, the world looked very different from the way it does now. Parts of the map were unfilled--chief among those spaces was the North Pole, which many believed contained warm currents that might provide safe passage. Enter James Gordon Bennett, the wealthy and eccentric owner of the New York Herald. Bennett--who was responsible for sending Stanley in search of Livingstone--wanted to produce another thrill for his readers, so he funded a naval expedition to reach the pole. Captained by George Washington De Long, the U.S.S. Jeannette shipped out in 1879 toward glory and parts unknown. The Jeannette became encased in ice, but the adventure was only just beginning. Author Hampton Sides does a masterful job of setting up the voyage against the backdrop of the Gilded Age, developing fascinating characters along the way, and delivering a true triumph of narrative nonfiction. Drawing on journal entries, letters, and eventually his own visit to the region, Sides paints a vivid, moving, and breathless portrait of the crew of the Jeannette. How could a book about this much snow and ice be this good? --Chris Schluep
--The Times of London
“As our knowledge of the world increases, it must be difficult for audacious explorers to find terra incognita to match their passion. Surely the same frustration holds true for writers in that worthy genre, exploration literature: Haven’t all great stories been told? Never underestimate the ingenuity of a first-rate author. Hampton Sides’s In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette, which recounts the astonishing tribulations of a group of seafarers determined to be the first men to reach and reconnoiter the North Pole, is a splendid book in every way… It would be malicious to ruin the suspense about the fate of the Jeannette’s crew… The book is a marvelous nonfiction thriller.”
--The Wall Street Journal
"Compelling....Sides spins a propulsive narrative from obscure documents, journals and his own firsthand visits to the Arctic regions visited by the Jeannette and its crew. In the Kingdom of Ice makes for harrowing reading as it recounts the grim aspects of the explorers' battle for survival: illness, crippling frostbite, snow-blindness and the prospect of starvation. As grisly as the details are, you keep turning pages to find out how DeLong and his men pull themselves past each setback — even though there's always another one looming ahead."
“[Sides] brings vividness to In the Kingdom of Ice, and in the tragedy of the Jeannette he’s found a story that epitomizes both the heroism and the ghastly expense of life that characterized the entire Arctic enterprise…With an eye for the telling detail, he sketches the crew members as individuals…The bare facts of what happened to the Jeannette’s crew are easily Googleable, but if you don’t already know the story, In the Kingdom of Ice reads like a first-class epic thriller. De Long and his companions became explorers of not only unknown geographical territory but also extremes of suffering and despair. In his stoic endurance of disappointment and pain, De Long rivals Louis Zamperini, the hero of Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken…”
--Lev Grossman, Time Magazine
“First-rate polar history and adventure narrative...wonderfully evocative.... Sides vividly recounts the horrors [of the voyage]. In the Kingdom of Ice is a harrowing story, well told.
--The New York Times Book Review
“Unforgettable…a pulse-racing epic of endurance set against an exceedingly bizarre Arctic backdrop…[Sides’] descriptions of the physical challenges the men face and the eerie landscape that surrounds them are masterful. As De Long and his crew attempt to save themselves, the story grows in suspense and psychological complexity…More strange and fantastic turns follow, involving uncharted and uninhabited lands, and it pains me that I cannot describe them without spoiling the pleasure of those who have not yet read In the Kingdom of Ice. Sides’ book is a masterful work of history and storytelling.”
--The Los Angeles Times
“America’s own brush with epic polar tragedy, the subject of Hampton Sides’ phenomenally gripping new book, is a less well-known affair…What ensued — a struggle to survive and a nearly 1,000-mile trek across the Arctic Ocean and into the vastness of Siberia — stands as one of the most perilous journeys ever. Sides works story-telling magic as he evokes the pathos and suffering of what unfolded: De Long and his crew endured hardships that boggle the mind. But there is also beauty here… [Sides] writes superbly on the geography of Siberia and the Arctic, and the abundant bird and animal life the explorers encountered on their travels, which took them across ice, storm-tossed seas, treacherous tundra, rocky seacoasts, and volcanic islands.”
--The Boston Globe
“…harrowing and impeccably paced.”
--The New Yorker
"A dazzling page-turner.....”
--Nathaniel Philbrick, New York Times bestselling author of In the Heart of the Sea, Bunker Hill and Sea of Glory
“[A] stunningly vivid account.....”
--Mark Bowden, New York Times Bestselling author of Black Hawk Down
“An astonishingly good story....”
--Candice Millard, New York Times bestselling author of The Destiny of the Republic and The River of Doubt
"Hampton Sides conjures the doomed USS Jeannette and her courageous crew with haunting power...."
--Caroline Alexander, New York Times bestselling author of The Endurance and The Bounty
"A spellbinding tale....”
--David Grann, New York Times bestselling author of The Lost City of Z
"Hampton Sides is one of America’s most expansive and engaging storytellers, and he proves it again with the incredible saga of the USS Jeannette...."
--Scott Anderson, New York Times bestselling author of Lawrence in Arabia
"A vivid tale of exploration set in a howling, deadly wilderness."
--T.J. Stiles, Pulitzer Prize winning author of The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt
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One subset of this genre is polar exploration. I’ve read several works whose subject was the Northwest Passage and the Franklin Expedition. I’ve read of the journeys of Ernest Shackleton and the Endurance and the race to the South Pole, involving Norwegian Roald Amundsen and Englishman Robert Falcon Scott. In all of these works, many of which detailed the history of polar exploration, I do not recall ever hearing of the Jeanette Expedition of 1880, the subject of this book. This is somewhat surprising, because it seems to have been something of a seminal event in the exploration of the northern polar regions.
At the time, little was known of the polar regions. Many surmised that the northern pole was covered by a warm sea, encircled by a girdle of ice which merely had to be pierced in order to access the ice free sea. The Franklin Expedition had previously been lost seeking a Northwest Passage, but attempts to sail to the northern pole were very few, and dismal failures.
In the late 1870s, an American naval officer George De Long, teamed up with the owner of the New York Herald, James Gordon Bennett to finance and outfit an expedition to explore the polar region and attempt a sea-based journey to the North Pole. Supported by the U. S. Navy and assisted by many of the leading “experts” on polar exploration, the group purchased a suitable craft, retrofitted it and provisioned it, departing from San Francisco headed north for the Bering Strait.
As it turns out, almost everything they were told to expect was wrong. Their maps were almost universally inaccurate and they were soon captured by the pack ice. This book details all of the preparations for the trip, the personalities involved and the brutal results of their journey. After finishing the book, I am somewhat astonished that I have never seen reference to the expedition, even in passing. It is an amazing and compelling story of human endurance and tragedy. I recommend it not just for those who have an interest in polar exploration, but for anyone who enjoys history and/or human interest stories in general.
James Gordon Bennett is newspaper owner who specializes in the outrageous and not altogether true stories.
Captain George Washington DeLong made his name for a daring attempt made to reach survivors of a ship that was destroyed by ice in the Arctic when he was still a Lieutenant in the US Navy. The Arctic got into his blood, something that surprised him, and he spent several years studying and plotting to get back there – but as the captain of his own expedition this time.
Bennett becomes very interested in the Arctic and agrees to fund DeLong’s expedition to the North Pole. They consult the latest maps and scientific data. They meet with the eminent scientists of the day and gather data that is suspect by today’s standards. (From our point of view we can see that some of the ideas put forth at the time were outrageous at best and some of them were downright dangerous. )
Before they set sail on July 8, 1879, DeLong is ordered by his superiors at the US Navy to check on a fellow explorer at Bennett’s behest. DeLong is furious for he knows the other explorer is not yet overdue and most likely is fine. But he must follow orders, so he takes the time to look for the other man’s party. He misses him by a mere week, but of course doesn’t know it. He finally gets the work from some native Alaskans that they have seen him and he had sailed away already. DeLong has lost some time and fears the worst.
As they head north through the Bering Strait, they find their first trouble. DeLong and the rest of the crew (for the most part), take their difficulties in their stride. The thirty-two men seem to get along fine aside from some petty jealousies and rivalries.
The Jeanette was to spend several months trapped in the ice pack. The men kept up their spirits though, and there was some game – polar bears, seals and such – that came close enough to the ship that the crew was served occasional fresh meat. An island was spotted that caused much excitement. Some of the crew came down with lead poisoning. (How they kept up their spirits in all this is beyond me. It was a sure testament to the human drive to thrive.)
With the breaking up and sinking of the Jeannette, all thirty-three men took to the ice along with their dogs. DeLong had been anticipating it for some time, so they had sufficient time to offload the most important items for the long trek ahead of them.
What follows is a story filled with horror, hardship and severe privation. My heart goes out to the brave men who undertook this expedition knowing very well what might lay in store for them.
This book is excellently written. Mr. Sides gives a detailed explanation of the search for and refurbishing of the Pandora, soon to become the Jeannette. He fully describes and illustrates all of the main characters, Delong, Bennett, Petermann and several men of the crew and officers. His research must have been exhaustive. Very well done and I recommend this book to anyone interested in arctic exploration, adventure or just for a very good read.
Top international reviews
On that note, anyone who reads this has to wonder if the voyage of the USS Jeanette was worth the sacrifice and hardship. Certainly, there was a lot of noble thought, but in the end, how much was gained? It's hard to tell.
There is a lot to thin about here. I would highly recommend.
Gives few clues as to the fate of the characters until near the end of the book so maintains its interest in the outcome of their unbelievable journey. Reminded me of Shackleton's boat journey. Very highly recommended.