Regular readers of Thursday book reviews know that I’m a fan of these types of books. This book’s author, Hampton Sides, along with authors like Simon Winchester, Bill Bryson, Candice Millard and Eric Larsen, all write their books to encompass other historical events surrounding the subject of their books.
Although by no means the central character of the book, James Gordon Bennett was a fascinating person. I picked up some ideas for future blog articles after reading about some of his “antics.” Eccentric and extremely wealthy, Bennett had sent Henry Stanley to Africa to find Dr. David Livingstone. His primary enterprise, The New York Herald, sold lots of newspapers during that time. His next big idea involved an Arctic expedition which he would fund.
I found this book so fascinating, marveling at the challenges these Arctic explorers endured in quest of finding the elusive North Pole and what had been mapped and referred to (mistakenly) as the Open Polar Sea by German cartographer August Heinrich Petermann. The British Royal Geographical Society disagreed with Petermann’s theories – to them he was a “charlatan and a windbag.”
However, Petermann’s maps, theoretical or not, were the ones that Lieutenant Commander George Washington DeLong depended on as he departed San Francisco on July 8, 1879 with every intention of finding Petermann’s so-called Open Polar Sea. DeLong hand-picked his crew and carefully planned everything down to the minutest detail before departing.
No matter how uncertain the journey or the obstacles he and his crew faced, DeLong was determined to preserve his meticulous records, keeping a detailed journal of the expedition. As it turned out, pretty much everything Petermann had supposed was in store for DeLong and his crew turned out to be tragically incorrect.
The USS Jeanette was caught in an ice pack in September where they drifted for almost two years. Although the expedition was well-prepared for this possibility, there were many challenges. Scientific tests were conducted and previously unknown land masses discovered. When the Jeannette sank about two years after the expedition began, the crew was forced to abandon ship and make their way on the ice, hoping to eventually reach Siberia.
Hampton Sides crafts a well-told, harrowing tale of courage and determination in the face of near-impossible odds. In the end the expedition ended in tragedy. It’s a great read, full of twists and turns that read more like a thriller. I highly recommend the book for anyone interested in nineteenth century exploration.
Have a GREAT day . . . someday it will be HISTORY!
© Sharon Hall (Digging History), 2014.