THE MAN WHO ATE HIS BOOTS by Anthony Brandt

THE MAN WHO ATE HIS BOOTS

The Tragic History of the Search for the Northwest Passage

KIRKUS REVIEW

Heroism tinged with scandal, high adventure beset by unbearable suffering—Great Britain’s 19th-century obsession with finding a Northwest Passage to Asia had it all.

National Geographic Adventure books editor Brandt (The People Along the Sand: Three Stories, Six Poems, and a Memoir, 2001, etc.) traces the European notion of a fabled Northwest Passage back to roots both documented and apocryphal. The author focuses on the second decade of the 1800s as England, flushed with victory in the Napoleonic Wars, was confidently anticipating the accretion of empire. While not an immediately exploitable resource given maritime capabilities, proof of a Northwest Passage would still be Britain’s “gift to the world.” Throughout the book, Brandt offers a wealth of reasoned detail, including his observations about less high-blown motivations. Hundreds of former seamen, pressed into service to defeat the French, now clogged the streets and public houses of port cities and towns, a public nuisance bordering on a menace to society. The Royal Navy needed a new mission. The architect was Sir John Barrow, Second Secretary to the Admiralty and as such both strategist and operations director for Arctic explorations. Barrow sent renowned captains and explorers like John Ross on missions to the deadly ice pack, then published scathing anonymous reviews of their pusillanimity and failure to push harder toward the ultimate goal. One by one they sailed and failed—Ross, William Edward Parry and others. Sir John Franklin, who became known by Brandt’s book title, was the ultimate tragic hero, taking 120 men to their deaths in 1848 by disease, freezing and starvation after their ships were captured and crushed by ice. Conclusive evidence later showed that the party’s final hours were marked by incidents of cannibalism.

A sterling examination of a national obsession that tracks the finds as well as the futilities of more than 60 years of harrowing Arctic exploration.

Pub Date: March 4th, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-307-26392-6
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 2010




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