A fine and lively collection of exploration stories, from the famous to the obscure, that are guaranteed not to be forgotten.
Fleming (The Sword and the Cross, 2003, etc.) brings to these tales a round-the-campfire storyteller’s verve and a poet’s gift for compression. The feats are divided into three sections—reconnaissance, inquiry and endeavor—and there are forty-four of them, ranging from the exploits of Marco Polo to Umberto Nobile’s crazywild airship journey to the North Pole. Fleming provides the context and consequences of the deeds—why James Cook got his goose handed to him in Hawaii; the impact of Lewis and Clark’s transcontinental trek, which was nothing less than a great colonial detonation on the American West; and the secondary motivation behind the Great Survey of India (in addition to mapping the subcontinent, it was a way of gathering military intelligence on places like Afghanistan and Tibet). Brevity is one of Fleming’s strong suits; none of the pieces is more than twenty pages long, some as short as five (and though they are not especially designed as such, they make for good bedtime reading and interesting dreams). There are deliciously clandestine characters like the pundits of the Greta Survey, all manner of otherworldliness (see in particular Edward Whymper’s visit from an apparition) and ill-fated souls aplenty, including Adolphus Greeley’s expedition to Ellesmere Island that found the starving crew munching on their oilskin sleeping bags, George De Long’s grisly end in Siberia and the mystery of John Franklin’s end in his search across the badlands of Canada for a northwest passage. There isn’t a dud in the lot, and Fleming has provided a bibliography of both primary and secondary sources for readers whose tastes for any one of these exploits has been whetted.
Adventure reading of a high order: brisk, fresh and full of color. (24 pp. b&w ills., not seen and excellent maps throughout)