In the Kingdom of Ice

by Hampton Sides | History |
ISBN: 9780307946911 Global Overview for this book
Registered by wingGoryDetailswing of Nashua, New Hampshire USA on 1/18/2024
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Journal Entry 1 by wingGoryDetailswing from Nashua, New Hampshire USA on Thursday, January 18, 2024
I got this softcover from the ongoing book sale at the Nashua Public Library, for another release copy. It combines the saga of De Long's doomed 1879 Arctic expedition with lots of little tidbits about the state of technology and exploration in the US in the post-Civil-War years, and is a dramatic tale of tragedy and survival. (There's a good audiobook version of this book, which I enjoyed.)

There are many elements involved in the course that the expedition took, including a theory about ocean currents (and the possibility of a permanently unfrozen north-polar sea) that was debunked even as the Jeannette moved into the Arctic, and some cutting-edge lighting technology courtesy of Thomas Edison and co. that was just a bit too premature for practical use on shipboard. De Long was also ordered by the expedition's backer, New York Herald owner James Gordon Bennett Jr., to spend time early in the expedition searching for news of Finnish explorer Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld, whose Vega expedition was in the Arctic and had not been heard from in some time. Not being heard from was actually par for the course in that kind of voyage, and De Long was confident that Nordenskiöld's expedition was in no need of assistance from him, but he had to at least check for news in various coastal communities. He did find enough data to reassure himself that he was right and Nordenskiöld was safe, but the delay might have been enough to tip the balance of his own expedition's fate. Then again, it's impossible to know what would have happened if he'd proceeded directly on his course - it may be that none of his crew would ever have been heard from...

De Long did seek advice from the experienced New Bedford whaling captains, who - while not having gone as far north as he planned to go - had much more practice navigating the frozen seas of the Arctic Circle than the map-makers and theorists. But the most seasoned captain (who was himself to die in the frozen north), after asking about the ship's strength and the supplies of food and coal, said "you may get through. Or, you may go to the devil - and the chances are about equal." I suppose those odds sounded pretty good considering the fate of so many Arctic expeditions {wry grin}.

The book describes the long ordeal of the Jeannette's crew, frozen in the ice in that small ship for almost two years before finally floating free - at which point the ship, too badly damaged, was nipped by the ice again and this time crushed. The crew transferred as much as they could to three boats, but open boats in that sea were at immense peril; that two of the three reached shore was pretty amazing in itself.

The two surviving boats had drifted far apart during a storm, and landed at widely separate points on the Lena river delta on the Arctic coast of Siberia. Their maps of the area were woefully inaccurate, and while one party was lucky enough to reach inhabited regions, the other - De Long's group - found themselves lost among the many streams, the only traces of life being the recently-abandoned-for-the-season huts of hunters and fishermen.

The rest of the story is a painful trek across ice and freezing water by men suffering physical and emotional torments; I found it hard to believe that they could keep going at all under those circumstances. The accounts of who survived and who did not, of how the news was sent back through the vast Russian wilderness, and the aftermath, makes up the rest of this involving, impressive, heroic and tragic tale.

[There were many tragedies in the Arctic during that time, of course. The search-ship Corwin, seeking news of the Jeannette, reported the mass deaths on St. Lawrence Island; it seems that the whaling fleets, having reduced the stock of whales, had taken to hunting walrus too, and had claimed so many animals that the natives who relied on them for food were left starving. (Access to strong drink, courtesy of American traders, didn't help, leaving many incapable of taking action to feed their own families.) Weakness and disease resulted in a massive fatality rate, and the crew witnessed unburied bodies lying everywhere.]

Journal Entry 2 by wingGoryDetailswing at Little Free Library, River Rd in Haverhill, Massachusetts USA on Monday, March 4, 2024

Released 1 mo ago (3/4/2024 UTC) at Little Free Library, River Rd in Haverhill, Massachusetts USA


I left this book in the Little Free Library; hope someone enjoys it!

[See other recent releases in MA here.]

Released for:

** 2024 Wine+Food challenge **

** 2024 4 Elements challenge **

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