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Barrow's Boys

4.12  ·  Rating Details  ·  330 Ratings  ·  31 Reviews
The atlas of 1816 was littered with blanks. What was the North Pole? Was there a Northwest passage? What lay at the heart of Africa? Did Antarctica exist? In his quest to find the answers to these questions John Barrow, Second Secretary to the Admiralty, launched the most ambitious programme of exploration the world had ever seen. Between 1816 and 1845 his hand-picked team ...more
Paperback, 489 pages
Published August 22nd 2001 by Granta Books (UK) (first published 1998)
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(showing 1-30 of 794)
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'Aussie Rick'
Dec 12, 2009 'Aussie Rick' rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, naval

This is a fascinating and enjoyable account of a number of brave men, sent to the furthermost points of the world to fill in the blank spots on the British Navy's globe. John Barrow, Second Secretary to the Admiralty sent a number of expeditions to find the source of the Niger River, to locate and traverse the North-West Passage, to locate Magnetic North, to find out what was actually at the Antarctic.

There are some great adventure stories here, of brave men, blundering fools and gentle heroes.
Jennifer (JC-S)
Jun 12, 2008 Jennifer (JC-S) rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: librarybooks
This is a fascinating story of an ambitious program of exploration launched by John Barrow, Second Secretary to the Admiralty in 1816.
Between 1816 and 1845 ‘Barrow’s Boys’ worked – sometimes with each other and sometimes against each other – to fill in some of the blank spaces around the globe. Some of the questions they set out to answer:
What was at the North Pole?
Was there a North-West Passage?
Where did the Niger go, and what was at the heart of Africa?
Did Antarctica exist?
To a large extent,
Simon Jones
Nov 14, 2015 Simon Jones rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was an absolutely ripsnorting humdinger of a read. Barrow's Boys covers a period from the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars to the height of the Victorian Age when the 2nd secretary of the Admiralty was one John Barrow. He was a man with a mission to fill in the blanks on the map and dispatched men of pluck to the Arctic and the Sahara in an attempt to ensure that it was Britain that led the way in discovery. The majority of the book is taken up with the expeditions sent in search of the nor ...more
Bill Bradburn
May 10, 2015 Bill Bradburn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: history buffs
Barrow’s Boys is a must read for those history buffs who first of all are interested in peace time British Naval history during the first half of the 19th century. The book reads like a novel as it explores the Admiralty and the decisions made to map and discover the Northwest Passage, Nile, Niger and thrown in for good measure the Antarctic.

The book is extremely well researched and author Fleming makes excellent work of the language of the day to introduce you to the character, ambitions and th
May 13, 2016 DazLightbown rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've read a lot of historical works in my time, and I can say without even a smidgeon of hyperbole that this is amongst the finest non-fiction tomes of the last few decades. This is a tale of a government clerk who never left England, yet planned, financed, and launched some of the most audacious and thrilling exploratory missions of the nineteenth century. From Franklin's search for the North West Passage, to Mungo Park's journey up the Niger, and missions such as those of Ross to find the fabl ...more
Aug 16, 2014 Alex rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is AMAZING. If you are into nineteenth-century exploring, you ought to read it. John Barrow wasn't necessarily successful at picking missions for his men, but my god, did he spur a great deal of exploration. Everything he set in motion is carefully detailed throughout, from Arctic expeditions to trying to find the end of the Niger (Mungo Park!) to That One Time People Tried to Colonize Antarctica Before Realizing It Was Kind of Worthless.

One thing I loved about this book is the gentle
Liam Guilar
Jan 05, 2014 Liam Guilar rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this when it was first published. It still reads well over ten years later. Although the search for the North West Passage, which became the search for Franklin lost looking for the North West Passage, dominates the book, Barrow's obsession with the Niger gives Fleming the opportunity to alternate narratives of ships stuck in Ice with narratives of men stuck or dying in Africa.

The men in question ranged from the lunatic (Liang) to the efficiently professional (Parry, the younger Ross) an
Mark Wiliamson
Apr 03, 2010 Mark Wiliamson rated it really liked it
This book is the history of the stream of explorers Sir John Barrow sent off round the world in the early to mid 1800's.

I grew up not far from John Barrows birth place and the monument to him on Hoad Hill in Ulverston ( was (and still is since I live near Ulverston again at the moment) a regular sight and it was fascinating to know why he was such an important character.

This book chronicles Barrows misguided, misinformed and frequently badly planned att
Nov 14, 2009 Clare rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Once more into the breach - another book about Victorian English explorers. What to do with all the idle officers now that peace has been attained? Why not send them out to explore the unknown regions of the world? It is hard in this day and age to realize that just a century and a half ago there was still much mystery out in the great wide world. Most of these men were going into places very few people had ever seen, not knowing what to expect. One commander was sent to look for a Northwest pa ...more
Having read books on other arctic explorers I was a little worried that this would just be another retelling of the same story but the author was able to add some new insights and a better understanding of the men in the Admiralty. The men that made the decisions as to who would be in charge of these expeditions and what their objectives and the extenuating circumstances of these trips would be was a nice backdrop to the expeditions themselves. The character examinations and how the various expl ...more
Mar 18, 2014 nicdavdi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Back in the day when there were large areas of the world marked with blanks on the map, John Barrow of the British Admiralty launched a number of expeditions to put the British presence into those wastes. This is a fascinating story of Boys Own expeditions that met with triumph and disaster. The author tells the story quite brilliantly, illustrating the exploits of these explorers with humanity as well as excitement.
Feb 25, 2016 Ethan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, exploration
Barrow's Boys tells the story of dozens of British Naval Expeditions throughout the first half of the 19th century to discover the Northwest Passage, Timbuctoo, the source of the Niger, the South Pole, etc... It is simply amazing what these men went through, being stuck on a boat, frozen in the Arctic ice for years on end, fighting starvation and diseas in Africa, just unimanginable hardships in the name of discovery.

Fleming is a good writer and the subject is a great one if you have an interes
Pretty much the entire history of 19th century British arctic exploration. John Barrow was the man behind it all, although he himself never went and most of his theories were completely wrong; the existence of the northwest passage, of course, but also the idea of polar sea. All of his wrong ideas led to death and suffering and expense of many. On the other hand, these expeditions did open up vast areas. What astounds me about arctic exploration is the physical and mental suffering these men wen ...more
Jan 29, 2016 Greg rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great book, John Barrow's influence on travel and exploration between 1810 and 1850 in Africa and the Arctic regions is unparralled, and this is a great account of the expeditions during his time; Parry, Ross, Franklin etc.
CJ Ruby
Very good. One of the best books on the Royal Navy's exploration during the early to mid 19th century. Which I've now read twice. Seemed oddly familiar after the second chapter (I must have read this shortly after it came out). This is one reason I joined Goodreads in order to catalog my reading. Anyway it was an enjoyable reread.
Megan Baxter
Barrow's Boys. It's nonfiction. It's about explorers funded by the Royal Navy (mostly under the urging of Barrow), including the most famously ill-fated Franklin Expedition. Fleming does a really excellent job of writing about these often disastrous trips engagingly, with some snark and well-deserved English sarcasm directly from some of the correspondents involved.

Note: The rest of this review has been withdrawn due to the changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You can read why I came to
May 21, 2009 Matt rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting stories about british exploration in the early to mid 1800s. While the stories are about incredible survival (though not in every case), the book gets rather repetitious and the tales of adventure seem to be extremely similar to each other. I actually didn't finish this one...
May 26, 2011 Larry rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fairly interesting book, just about 1/3 longer than it needed to be. Each chapter consists of "bunch of British sailors talk the wacky John Barrow into another harebrained scheme to find the northwest passage, leading to mayhem and death".

Rinse and repeat.
Aug 25, 2008 John rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is an awesome read. There are three exploration stories that run at the same time. This would be a great premise for a reality show, eating lichen off the pot belly stove for over a year on an ice stranded frigate.
Jan Argasiński
Jul 20, 2015 Jan Argasiński rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Rewelacja! Najlepsza książka historyczna od bardzo bardzo dawna.
Aug 27, 2009 Anne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you like reading about exploration this is a great book for you. Fleming details how certain expeditions were approved and then what happened on them. It is history at its best. I really enjoyed this book.
Mar 03, 2011 RUSA CODES rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was one of the 2001 RUSA Notable Books winners. For the complete list, go to
Nov 07, 2008 Kate rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I couldn't believe how mad some Victorian explorers actually were! Absolutely fascinating and gripping if like me you'd never heard of Ross's story.
Sandra D
Colorful and witty narrative of British efforts to fill in the "blank spots" on the maps of Africa and the Arctic during the first half of the 19th century.
Apr 10, 2008 Scott rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Thrilling stories from the golden age of exploration. While the writing wasn't all that great, the subject matter more than made up for it.
The Shackleton books got me into this is a great read...very compelling if you love history and adventure!
William Battersby
A lively overview of early nineteenth century exploration by the British. Well written and covering a lot of ground.
Jun 16, 2009 Susanne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had no idea polar exploration could be this fascinating--I learned a lot
Dec 21, 2008 Libbycgray rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
You just have to read it to believe it: I can't sell you on this one.
Jan 23, 2013 Jason rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Easily one of the most engaging non-fiction books I've read.
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