Naval aviator Richard Byrd (1888–1957) was a born explorer, but he was no daredevil. American Polar Society governor Bart (Beatrice: The Untold Story of a Legendary Woman of Mystery, 1998) is the authority on Byrd, and his biography is as detailed as Byrd’s own preparations for his expeditions.
The author closely examines the navigational methods used by Byrd, particularly the equipment he developed that changed navigation out of sight of land forever. He is one of the few authors to actually explain to us landlubbers how the sextant works. Byrd’s proficient use of Bumstead’s sun compass, his own bubble sextant and wind drift indicator ensured that he was the best aeronautical navigator around at the time. He was part of the 1925 MacMillan Arctic Expedition. Plagued by the unpredictable and usually unforgiving weather, the expedition fell short of its overreaching goals when the adventurers ran out of time. Eventually, Byrd launched his own expedition, backed by John D. Rockefeller Jr. and Edsel Ford. He planned to fly over the North Pole from Norway with a plane designed by the Flying Dutchman, Anthony Fokker. Byrd was not the only one striving to be the first to fly over the pole, however. Norwegian Roald Amundsen was depending on an Italian-made dirigible to fly from the same spot over the pole, the polar sea and the landmass that most felt existed beneath the ice.
This story of Byrd’s accomplishments is for those professionals who appreciate Bart’s fastidious attention to navigation methods and preparations necessary for explorative treks. For the rest of us, the book is an easy read if you are able to skim through the considerable details.