Saturday, July 25, 2015
"In the Kingdom of Ice", by Hampton Sides
The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette
This first rate adventure narrative recreates the astonishing tribulations of a group of 33 seamen who set sail in 1879 from San Francisco on a daring expedition that would bring them to the North Pole via the Bering Strait.
The expedition was financed by the flamboyant James Gordon Bennett Jr, owner of the New York Herald and the USS Jeanette piloted by George Washington De Long, a harsh disciplinarian with a granite disposition. The USS Jeannette was well supplied when headed north on her ill-fated voyage.
After losing valuable time looking for Nordenskiold (another explorer) at the request of Bennett the Jeannette became completely trapped in ice near the Wrangled Island and remained there confined for two years. When the ice opened the pressure on the haul was too much that the ship soon foundered and the harrowing story of their survival begins…….everything kicks in high gear….
The struggle to survive nearly 1000 mile across the Arctic Ocean and into the vastness of Siberia is story-telling at its best. Mr. Sides writes superbly on the geography of Siberia and the Arctic, its birds and animals, the treacherous tundra, seacoast and volcanic islands. He adds a magic spell to his words when he evokes the pathos and especially the suffering of what unfolded. One can only wonder how the crew endured all this hardship. We find grim details and a lot of melodrama in the crew’s odyssey as they try to reach mainland Siberia. This is a real page-turner, a well-written account paced with cliff hanging moments to shock us. We also have poignant moments, quotes from journals and letters from and to love ones and a look into the Gilded Age American and European society of the time. This was quite an expedition that is excellently revived.
“The Kingdom of Ice”, is one of the best and most interesting books I read in a long time.