Thursday, October 08, 2015

In the Kingdom of Ice by Hampton Sides

Last week, in "the Martian", we had a science fiction book based on science fact of a single man stranded on Mars and trying to stay alive.  In "In the Kingdom of Ice", there is a true story of a voyage in the 1880s to determine if there really was a warm water sea at the north pole that could be reached by breaching an outer barrier of ice further south.

If the second story seems more fiction than the first, you are in for a treat.  A portion of learnered men  in North America and Europe were convinced that the North Pole was an open sea year round, due to a number of theories such as tunnels from deep in the earth (maybe the earth was hollow) feeding warm air or water to the pole and warm currents in the Pacific and Atlantic shooting under the ice encountered as you sailed further north and resurfacing at the pole.  The same New York newspaper that had Stanley find Livingston in Africa decided to fund a Navy expedition into the polar ice cap to determine if the warm water pole theory was true.

The newspaper owner funded the whole thing, including buying the ship, giving it to the navy, funding the refit in a west coast navy yard and buying all the supplies.  The ship sailed north, eventually became trapped in the ice for two years and then sunk.  The crew dragged everything they could south trying for the coast of Russia.  The story was a world-wide sensation at the time and the captain and crew were honored as heros.

Everything in this book is well documented and the story is compelling.  The tale is interesting enough at the beginning and by the end, I stayed up late to get through the last 70 harrowing pages.  It's that good.

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