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True North: Peary, Cook, and the Race to the Pole Hardcover – April, 2005

4.3 out of 5 stars 38 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

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
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 331 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (April 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393057917
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393057911
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,454,509 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A. Woodley on November 21, 2005
Format: Hardcover
More like a snow opera - this is the real-life saga of jealousy and professional hatred between Peary, the supposed discoverer of the North Pole in 1909 and his former colleague, Cook who said he discovered it in 1908.

Bruce Henderson ably lays out all the information at hand, including secondary accounts from supporters of both men. The issue seems to lie more in the personal aspects of both men who had once been colleagues but fell out very quickly in their first expedition together. This seemed to set the stage for increasing animosity culminating in Peary's attack on Cook Personally when Cook claimed to have reached the Pole.

Peary treated the Pole as a personal possession and already resented Cook, even before he made his claim. Henderson questions whether this personal dislike and Cook's propensity to hide away when under attack, has meant that Cook has failed to make the history books as the first to reach the North Pole as he should have.

Certainly this issue appears to have been a contentious one in many circles for a while, although perhaps not publically. While Henderson appears to not take sides on it overtly, I get the sense in this book that he strongly believes that Cook did get short changed.

whatever the outcome this was a ripping good read, and highly enjoyable for one who enjoys Arctic and Antarctic accounts.
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Format: Hardcover
True North tells the gripping story of a race to the (North) Pole that almost equals the amazing race for the South Pole of Scott and Amundsen a few years laters, both in excitement and ensuing controversy. The combatants in this contest are Cook and Peary, both claiming to have reached the Pole and, perhaps, both lying. This book makes a good case for Cook having actually achieved the set goal and an even better case for Peary never having stepped on the ever-shifting north pole. Bruce Henderson gets the tale off to a gripping start and keeps the story rolling quickly along. In Peary, the author has one of the true villains of polar exploration and the author milks it out beautifully and powerfully. It was almost hard to read at times as Peary's arrogance grew gigantic after learning that Cook was headed for the Pole. A true tragedy captured nicely in this book.
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Format: Hardcover
It's amazing how some aspects of American history become lost through the pasage of time. When I was in grade school and high school, I was always taught that Peary discovered the North Pole, and nothing was ever said about Dr. Cook. Even in college, as a History major, I was taught nothing about that subject. The first time I learned that there was some dispute about the North Pole was when I read the book "The Big Nail", probably in the very early '70s. To say that I was shocked would be an understatement! Over the years since then, I have read other works on this subject, and each one brings its own particular bias with it. The author either favors Peary or Cook, and does his best to villify the other person. This latest book is another in Dr. Cook's corner, but it is free from the vitriol that usually populate this genre of works. He takes us through everything about both men and their respective expeditions, but comes down on the side of Cook. After reading several books, I tend to agree with him, particularly in light of Peary's seemingly amazing distances covered when any witness beside his "body servant" was with him. Also, his absolute refusal to transport Cook's instruments and vital records home on his ship, and then requesting Cook produce them to verify his claim is extremely suspicious. The "establishment", which backed Peary's work, circled the wagons against Cook and proceeded to castigate him unmercifully. No one will ever know exactly which of the two men reached the Pole first, but this well-written book makes an exceptionally good case for Dr. Cook. Read it and form your own conclusions.
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Format: Paperback
True North: Peary, Cook, and the Race to the Pole by Bruce Henderson places itself within the longstanding debate of who reached the North Pole first: Dr. Frederick A. Cook or Navy Officer Robert E. Peary. Both claimed to have reached it within one year of each other, Cook in April of 1908 and Peary in April of 1909. Historically, credit for the North Pole discovery has gone to Peary, and much criticism has been aimed at Cook for fabricating his story. Henderson addresses the possibility that Cook may have reached the Pole first and has thus been cheated of his acclamation. A reexamination of evidence, Henderson hopes, will shed more light on the controversy because recent history has charged that Peary lied about the distances he traveled while Cook has gained merit due to his accurate descriptions of the northern regions verified by later explorers. Henderson begins True North when the two are just children, setting up a foundation to help readers understand the two men and what may have motivated their drive to reach the pole. It is not until the middle of the book, in fact, that the race to the North Pole becomes the focus.

Cook and Peary initially worked together to cross and map the Greenland ice cap. Due to conflict during the expedition, Cook decided not to work with Peary again when called upon to do so, instead choosing to lead Greenland expeditions of his own. Peary returned to Greenland to collect iron meteorites sacred to the native people while Cook returned to take up tourist groups of hunters and explorers. Beginning in 1898, Peary made a few failed attempts to reach the North Pole and Cook ventured to the South Pole (1897-1899) and to the summit of Mt. McKinley (1906).
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