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Book Review

A True-Life Arctic Adventure

www.history.navy.mil / Google Images / Creative Commons

Hampton Sides is an editor-at-large for Outside Magazine and a master of narrative non-fiction. His latest book, In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette, combines just the right amount of adventure, meticulous research and remarkable characters with lofty dreams.

On July 8, 1879, 33 men, under the direction of Lt. Washington Delong, set sail on the USS Jeannette from San Francisco on a voyage to reach the geographic North Pole. James Gordon Bennett, Jr. the wealthy owner, publisher and editor of the New York Herald, financed the audacious voyage in his ambitious pursuit of good stories.

But just two months into the voyage, the Jeannette became trapped for two years in an ice floe.

August Peterson, the misguided German cartographer and master planner of the voyage believed there was an “Open Polar Sea” beyond the Arctic floes, filled with relatively warm water. He insisted that “attaining the pole would be a very easy and trivial thing.”

Fortunately for the crew, Lt. Delong’s skills as a captain exceeded Peterson’s as a geographer. During the two years stranded in the ice, there was no mutiny, no one died and the ship remained intact.

The preservation of the journals, maps and diaries by the crew became paramount to them, and is the stuff of adventure. Hampton Sides’ book is a brilliant testament to Lt. DeLong and his crew of men and their dream of discovery.