I haven’t posted a book review for a while because Tom and I have been busy exploring. But I’ve still been reading and “In the Kingdom of Ice” is a book that deserves a review. I saw this book on the “New Releases” table at Barnes and Noble and was intrigued by the second line of the title, “The Grand and Terrible Voyage of the USS Jeannette.”
I have not read any other books by Hampton Sides, but he is certainly a writer that does his research. It took me a while to get into the story because Sides went off on so many tangents. They were interesting tangents (such as the theory of the open ocean so popular among scientists of the day) but seemed to go on a little long for purposes of the story. However, this was certainly one way to build the suspense.
“In the Kingdom of Ice” tells the story of a Navy sponsored expedition to find the North Pole by boat. In the late 1800’s, scientists and cartographers hypothesized that there was a warm-water ocean at the North Pole and it would be possible to reach it if explorers could find their way through the arctic ice circle.
The expedition was funded by newspaper tycoon James Gordon Bennett and led by Captain George Washington De Long. The crew was handpicked and prepared extensively for what was expected to be a two-year expedition. I know how I struggled to get everything I needed at the grocery store once every two weeks – I can’t imagine provisioning for a whole crew for two years!
The USS Jeannette sailed from San Francisco on July 8, 1879. They replenished their provisions in Alaska and then disappeared into the unknown arctic. Eleven of the 33 men on the crew made it back to civilization three long years later. What happened along the way is told in a suspenseful way that kept me reading even as I endured the long theoretical tangents.
When I finished “In the Kingdom of Ice” I continued to ponder the story – to me the sign of a good book. At what cost do we send people into the unknown? Why are some people pulled to explore new places and others are happy never leaving the town where they grew up? Was the voyage of the USS Jeannette a success or failure?
Hampton Sides has written other historical nonfiction books: “Ghost Soldiers,” “Blood and Thunder,” and “Hellhound on His Trail.” I am sure they are as carefully researched as “In the Kingdom of Ice” and I look forward to reading some more of his books.
If you are interested in arctic exploration, or just like a good story about people overcoming great odds, you will enjoy “In the Kingdom of Ice.”