Hall’s ill-fated expedition deserves better.




A humdrum recounting of a little-known episode in the history of Arctic exploration.

Approved by a joint congressional resolution of March 8, 1870, the exploratory voyage of USS Polaris was the first formal American effort to reach the North Pole. Commanded by a practiced Arctic explorer, Charles Francis Hall, the vessel’s crew was an unlikely mix of native-born Americans, Eskimos, Englishmen, and Germans; Europeans figured prominently, writes journalist Henderson, “since the most adventurous Americans were going West rather than to sea.” Under the leadership of a prize pair of martinets, the German contingent immediately fell afoul of its American counterpart, which numbered more than its share of incompetents and drunks, and Hall and his lieutenants seemed disinclined to do much about the rising tension. Hall died not long after reaching Arctic waters; Henderson suggests that he was poisoned and hints that the ship’s German doctor did the captain in, though only the most circumstantial of evidence exists to support his charge. Without Hall, order fell apart; after a collision with an iceberg breached the ship’s hull, Polaris was abandoned, but not before 19 of the crewmembers were marooned elsewhere, left to fend for themselves on an ice floe on which they would drift for a distance of more than 1,500 miles over 197 days. Two years after setting sail, the survivors were rescued, and the story of Polaris and subsequent US government tribunals filled newspapers around the world. The strange story is inherently interesting, and good fodder for a screenplay, but Henderson writes so unimaginatively and ploddingly that only the most determined Arctic-exploration buff will stick around to find out how it all ends.

Hall’s ill-fated expedition deserves better.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2001

ISBN: 0-451-40935-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: NAL/Berkley

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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