FARTHEST NORTH by Clive Holland


A History of North Polar Exploration in Eyewitness Accounts
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 A trim, at times hypnotic, history of polar exploration. Almost like a documentary filmmaker, Holland (former archivist at the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge, England) has cut and spliced ships' logs, sailors' journals, and other primary sources, adding his own narrative bridges, to present a history of Western encounters with the Arctic. Spurred by mercantilism and nationalism during the age of discovery, European nations sought new lands to colonize and a northwest passage from the Atlantic to the trading centers of Asia. Few who made it into the high latitudes remained untouched by the austere magic of the region. The mid-16th-century Dutch officer Gerrit De Veer wrote: ``Wee saw the first Ice, which we wondered at, at the first, thinking that it had beene white Swannes.'' Later European expeditions to the Arctic had scientific, as well as commercial, missions. And after the North American Arctic had been gradually mapped in the 19th century (mostly by ships sent to search for the ill-fated Franklin Expedition), the North Pole itself became a destination. Over 400 miles away from the nearest point of land along the northern shore of Greenland, the Pole is a spot on the frozen Arctic Ocean devoid of life and without any commercial or geopolitical value. But people wanted to reach it. In 1897, Solomon August AndrÇe made an attempt via unpowered silk hydrogen balloon. He didn't make it, joining a long list of people who had died or were yet to perish in pursuit of a passage or the pole before Robert Peary announced his success in September 1909. Frederick Cook's claim to have reached the pole before Peary has been discredited, though the argument still simmers in polar circles. Thanks are due to Holland for his own smart commentary and for delivering the best of 400 years' worth of source material. These days, if you have enough money, you can have a BBQ at the pole and a sauna back aboard the icebreaker. Heroic polar firsts are a thing of the past, but going over these attempts still makes for an absorbing evening. (Illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: Dec. 15th, 1994
ISBN: 0-7867-0128-5
Page count: 314pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 1994


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