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Ada Blackjack: A True Story of Survival in the Arctic
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Ada Blackjack: A True Story of Survival in the Arctic

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3.86 of 5 stars 3.86  ·  rating details  ·  601 ratings  ·  92 reviews
From the author of The Ice Master comes the remarkable true story of a young Inuit woman who survived six months alone on a desolate, uninhabited Arctic island

In September 1921, four young men and Ada Blackjack, a diminutive 25-year-old Eskimo woman, ventured deep into the Arctic in a secret attempt to colonize desolate Wrangel Island for Great Britain. Two years later, Ad
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Hardcover, 431 pages
Published November 12th 2003 by Hachette Books (first published 1990)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,261)
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Melissa
The title of this book is a little deceiving. While Ada Blackjack is featured prominently in the book, this is more the telling of all the explorers on the Wrangel Island expedition. As much detail is given to the other four explorers and their families as is given about Blackjack herself.

Ada Blackjack was an impoverished woman living in Alaska. Because of her limited income, she was forced to put her son in a home while she tried to earn money for the both of them. When she was hired on as a se
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Ice
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Linda
If ever there was a woman who took the wrong job, Ada Blackjack qualifies for the honor. A 23 year old Inuit woman with a sick child, Ada agreed to accompany four so-called explorers to Wrangel Island north of Siberia, for $50.00 a month. The year was 1923. Although there had already been a failed attempt to live self sufficently on Wrangel Island, a silver-tounged adventurer, Vilhjalmur Stefansson, a Canadian, talked four young men into going back to study the wildlife and do weather experiment ...more
Bobbi
I just read Velva Jean Learns to Drive and loved it. I looked up the author and found that she had written this nonfiction book as well which I read a year or so ago. I couldn't believe the same author wrote two such different but wonderful books! I loved the story of Ada Blackjack; it was truly fantastic. I don't know how I can better describe the book than the summary at Goodreads, so I'm pasting it below. You'll love it!

"It was controversial explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson who sent four young
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Jean
Fascinating story, and unusual because of its setting and the fact that Ada Blackjack, an Inuit woman, was the heroine (at a time in history when a woman--especially a woman with a distinct ethnicity--was rarely credited with skills or abilities beyond the kitchen and parlor).

A sad and moving account of enthusiasm that cost lives: four men perished in an ill-advised attempt to "secure" Wrangell Island for Britain and Canada in the early 1920s, and lone survivor Ada Blackjack was both glorified a
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Liz
LOVE this book. A true story set in the 1920s, a group of ill-prepared survivors set off to live on a remote Arctic island for a year. They hire Ada Blackjack, and Inuit woman, to cook and make clothes for them on the journey. She is the sole survivor of the expedition. The description of the beginning of the trek is a little hard to stomach because of the way the explorers treat Ada, but the details seem true to life without romanticizing the adventure. Ada's strength is apparent at the end of ...more
Bunnie O'hara

this is supposed to be a true story and until i got about half way through i thought it rang true. but the part where ada is left with lorne knight i thought was too much-she is depicted as a frightened eskimo woman left alone to tend to one of the men who is sick with scurvy and who eventually becomes bed ridden. then she is able to shoot birds out of the sky-bring in game from traps that she taught herself to set. build a umiak from canvass- carve oars from drift wood--it is hard to believe s
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Amanda
I learned of this book's existence thru Tumblr. Always curious for the lives of women, especially in history I was excited to read this. Blackjack's story is hidden in the cracks of history, and I was very dismayed to see the way she was treated by her contemporaries. Insinuating that she was a prostitute, using her for their own devices, and meanwhile she suffers in poverty despite being owed tonnes of money. It was awful to read the sheer lunacy of the man who decided to change his name to som ...more
Barb
How these 5 young people managed is beyond me. Ada is amazing. The story is well written and the author does a great job exploring the different viewpoints while writing as though you are right there in the moment.
Patricia
If you like history, especially stories of women, you'll like this one. The story of Ada, who went with four men to a remote island in the Arctic. When the relief ship didn't return, they spent 2 YEARS on this island. Three left for help and never seen again. One died of scurvy, and Ada was left for two months to fend for herself completely. Think polar bears, no food, lonliness... It's a fascinating story, though I skimmed the last 100 pages (after her rescue). Squabbling over story rights, whi ...more
Rick
I liked this one, but not as much as "Ice Master". The story was interesting, but not as compelling. Frankly, it was more than a little depressing and there was no payoff at the end. I like her writing style but easily half of the book was taken up with matters after Ada was rescued from the island. I just found myself getting bored in the final chapters and a bit perplexed by Ada's strange behavior. She didn't come off as likeable and I'm still not convinced that she WAS a hero. Very odd.... an ...more
Tom Johnson
6 stars if I could - most moving book since Chernow's Hamilton - I happened across ABJ when buying another book on eBay (checked the seller's "other items" - took a chance, glad I did (that first copy was an ARC and terrible, text full of errors that seemed contrived, is the Advanced Reading Copy a scam? whatever, after 103 pages the book was too good to tolerate such a poor copy, bought a nice hardcover with maps and photos and no errors) - the book has it all, heroes and villains, laughter and ...more
Shawn
The heroine in this amazing story is a young Inuit woman with a sick child, who goes on an expedition to an island above Siberia, thinking that she will be a seamstress for four young men, and make money for her child. She doesn't really want to go, but feels trapped and obligated and not up to the task of standing up to the man who hires her. After all, she is a quiet girl and it is the year 1921.....

Her adventures on this trek are told thru letters and diaries, and eventually by herself, as s
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Melissa
This is a tragic story, one that could have easily been prevented with the right leadership and adequate training. This book reads well. Despite Ada being the only female to survive out of 4 other males, having no real Arctic experience except that she is an Eskimo (she doesn't know how to shoot or even hardly take care of herself), this isn't the most heroic non-fiction book I've read. I really enjoyed the Shackleton story in the Antarctic (The Spirit of the Endurance), probably more so because ...more
Karen
A tragic story of a 23 year old Inuit mother, Ada Blackjack, who is talked into going on an arctic expedition to scrape hides, cook and sew. She agrees because she needs money to get her son to hospital for tuberculosis. The inane, selfish, thoughtless ‘planner’, Stefansson, was only out for money and glory and had never been to the purposed site yet insisted it was a ‘walk-in-the-park’. Of the four young men sent on the expedition, only two had ever been in the arctic before. Their actions were ...more
Elizabeth Niedrauer
I really enjoyed this book. It was a very compelling story although the unanswered questions are frustrating. I can only imagine what the families of the three lost men must have experienced not knowing what happend. I did feel the latter part of the book (after Ada's rescue) was a little boring and repetitive. I think she could have covered the important details in a lot less time.
Paul
Ada Blackjack, a true story of survival in the Arctic by Jennifer Niven - An Alaskan Native American in 1921 joins an all male expedition to a remote island off of Russia as their seamstress. The group faces many hardships; its main goal a sham. One explorer had been on another disastrous expedition organized by the same lecturer/adventurer several years before. Niven wrote an excellent book about that expedition entitled "Ice Master –The doomed 1913 voyage of the Karluk" This time he was not so ...more
Rosie Beck
The true story of Ada Blackjack, a young Inuit woman who went as a seamstress and cook to desolate Wrangel Island in 1921. Vilhjalmur Stefansson was sure the island would be important to the world as an army base,
flight stopover and more and, sent an expedition of 4 very young men and Ada to colonize it for Britain (while he stayed "on the continent" to raise money. This is the harrowing tale of two years spent (only one had been planned) in which Ada was the only one to return alive. She was cl
...more
Jenreiter
A fascinating read of a complicated life. It is more than just the story of Ada Blackjack, there are so many more people and plot twists involved! In fact, I was left with several unanswered questions about her life.
Debby Nemecek
Fascinating. Well written. Yes, it is not purely a biography but the story would be incomplete without details about the other members and the impact on their families.
CJ
Because of my husband's love affair with Alaska, I thought this might be an interesting book to read. In actuality, it's a love letter to a woman who survived an ill-fated Arctic expedition. I agree that Ada Blackjack deserved to have people know who she was. Unfortunately, she didn't leave a whole lot to go on. This book deals more with the back biting of the 2 "explorers" fighting over the legacy of the expedition on Wrangel Island - one who sent her and one who rescued her.

Interesting and wel
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VerJean
Extraordinary true story of a mostly unknown "failed" adventure and the extraordinary woman who was only survivor.
FINALLY finished the book - not because it wasn't extremely interesting, but because we read in the car (Winston drives, I read), thus we have to accumulate "x-hours" of otherwise boring travel before we can finish a book. Since we rarely have "boring" travel - it can take a long time.
Both of us enjoyed the book and I will now plan to read the author's previous book - "The Ice Maste
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Mary Newcomb
Lured by Vilhjalmur Stefansson's notion of the "Friendly Arctic" and wanting to claim Wrangel Island for England, a party of four young men and one cook/seamstress set out in 1921 to occupy and explore it. The expedition was poorly financed and poorly considered. All four explorers perished, one from scurvy. The 1923 relief expedition rescued Ada Blackjack and brought back the harrowing tale. Then Harold Noice and Vilhjalmur Stefansson got into a public squabble about the diaries and stories fro ...more
Erin
I would love to have a conversation with Ada's family.
Stacey
Excellent! A great example of women's history and the determination it takes to uncover it. Very well written!
Cathy
Nov 12, 2012 Cathy added it
Shelves: nonfiction, kindle
Honestly, I mostly bought this because it was cheap on Kindle, but it turnd out to be a very well-done book on a bit of history I'd never heard of. Ada remains somewhat enigmatic -- there are so many versions of who she was as seen by other people: childish, a noisy drunk, noble, practical, hysterical, conniving, heroic, pathetic, ladylike. I suppose the fact that so many people wanted to use her story in so many different ways is the real subject of the book, as depressing as that finally becom ...more
Leah Wilby
What an incredible story of survival on the part of Ada Blackjack, and an exceptional tale of heartbreak and ill advised navigation on behalf of the young men who perished. The loss is palpable, even after all the years since this fatal expedition occurred. Ada was a true force and a warrior womyn in her own right. The challenges she surmounted, the survival skills she taught herself to sustain her life and the life of another elicits a sense of deep pride. A truly worthwhile read!
Pat Jorgenson Waterchilde
Excellent book. What an adventure story filled with a strong sense of adventure and the tragedy of the human spirit. Ada Blackjack was an excellent read...very well written...captured the reader and never let go. The story of the exploration of Wangel Island in the early 1920's takes the reader on an adventure that will never be forgotten. I enjoy non-fiction in this sense for it makes those real people, long forgotten come alive again. Well worth reading.
Sarah
OK, so this book seems kind of random, unless you like hearing exciting stories about kick ass women. My grandmother sent it to me and I absolutely loved it. It's definitely and interesting story - the writing could be improved some (often loses its focus on Ada vs. the expedition and politics) but the story more than makes up for it.

PS: I read it in the cold Utah desert - it makes me both want to go try to live in the arctic and want to never go outside again.
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arctic adventure and human nature 2 17 Jul 18, 2014 03:19PM  
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By the time I was ten, I had already written numerous songs, a poem for Parker Stevenson ("If there were a Miss America for men, You would surely win"), two autobiographies (All About Me and My Life in Indiana: I Will Never Be Happy Again), a Christmas story, several picture books (which I illustrated myself) featuring the Doodle Bugs from Outer Space, a play about Laura Ingalls Wilder's sister en ...more
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