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Death on the Barrens: A True Story of Courage and Tragedy in the Canadian Arctic
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Death on the Barrens: A True Story of Courage and Tragedy in the Canadian Arctic

3.63  ·  Rating Details ·  208 Ratings  ·  55 Reviews
Set in the remote arctic region of Northern Canada, this book takes readers on a harrowing canoe voyage that results in tragedy, redemption, and, ultimately, transformation. George Grinnell was one of six young men who set off on the 1955 expedition led by experienced wilderness canoeist Art Moffatt. Poorly planned and executed, the journey seemed doomed from the start. Ig ...more
Paperback, 296 pages
Published April 20th 2010 by North Atlantic Books (first published January 1st 1996)
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Nancy Oakes
Feb 09, 2010 Nancy Oakes rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
I can't give this a rating, because my expectations of what this book was about were quite different from the reality and it wouldn't be fair to the author.

George Grinnell, the author, lays out the story of how in 1955 he and four other guys, all under the leadership of one Arthur Moffatt, spent about three months on a canoe trek from Stony Rapids in Saskatchewan to Baker Lake in Nunavit to get away from the world for a while. Moffatt was the kind of guy who would much rather be communing with
Jan 02, 2010 Marvin rated it really liked it
Any book about wilderness survival is also about coming-of-age no matter what your age is. There is something about tragedy and survival situations that not only brings the best and worst out of people but also forces them ro examine themselves as individuals and spiritual beings. Grinnell has written a book that puts all this in perspective. Death on The Barrens is a riveting wilderness adventure story of an ill-fated and ill-planned expedition that resulted in the death of its leader and the r ...more
Jan 02, 2010 Nancy rated it it was amazing
Thank you Goodreads!--another First Reads win!

This is the true account of a harrowing journey to find inner peace that took the author, George Grinnell 50 years to find the right words to write. As a young man of 22, he and four others (the youngest only 18) accompanied experienced guide Art Moffatt on a canoe trip into the Canadian wilderness of the Barron Grounds. Grinnell is frank about revealing the individual members of the group’s failings, including his own. The story is compelling as we
Feb 02, 2010 Sara rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fantastic book, especially for those who are interested in wilderness travel. George Grinnell doesn't shrink from describing his party's strong points, as well as their weak ones. No one is idolized, no one is vilified--he pains a very believable portrait of what he and the five others in his group were like when they set out on their canoeing trip across the Canadian Barrens.
I enjoy getting out in the wilderness, but I have never tackled anything quite like this. I probably never will. Regard
Kris Madaus
Aug 20, 2010 Kris Madaus rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nov 06, 2010 Susannah rated it it was amazing
Holy crap! My aunt recommended this book to me, and said the big question in her mind was "What were they thinking?!" I'd have to agree. I found the story itself gripping--you know right from the beginning who's going to die, and you know it's coming soon--but I also found the frequent philosophical musings thought provoking. I feel mildly more converted to Buddhism after reading this book, even though the author is probably an atheist. I also feel a little exhausted, because the book becomes ex ...more
Jan 08, 2010 Chris rated it really liked it
Incredible journey! I loved that the story was written by one of the men who went on this disastrous trip! Unfortunately, I am NOT into poetry, so the author lost me towards the end. I often wonder where the will to survive comes from, and why it is stronger in some, than in others. Excellent book............. highly recommended if you like true stories, and have an appreciation for poetry. I am so glad I won this on First Reads.
Jan 02, 2010 Elizabeth rated it it was amazing
Shelves: good-book, gr8, true-story
do not like to give away a story in a blog. I just want to let you know this is a great read. I had a very hard time putting it down.
These young men go through so much yet learned many things. They face trials and tragedy & triumph . This also reflects on many things in the past that we all can relate to. It also brings you to the present to reflect on things that are most important in life.

A must read for all who like true stories . Great book....Loved it.
Feb 02, 2017 Devon rated it it was amazing
Death on the Barrens: A True Story of Courage and Tragedy in the Canadian Arctic is one part Lord of the Flies, one part Into the Wild, one part Heart of Darkness. In this true account of a six-man canoe voyage into Canada’s north, memoirist George Grinnell hides a coming-of-age story within his day-to-day recounting of a forty-year-old story. Despite the difference in time between the 1955 and the publication of the book, the story is fresh, sharp, and engaging. Death on the Barrens does not ba ...more
Pam ☼Because Someone Must Be a Thorn☼ Tee
Important Lesson: Don't Dally!

I simply loved this book. I found it an interesting and entertaining read-- if one can say that such a tragic trip can be entertaining.

It's an account of a river journey made by five youngsters in their early twenties and late teens, and 36 year-old 'leader' through the wilds of northern Canada. Between you and me it's surprising that the whole lot of them didn't perish, they were so ill-prepared. Not only did they leave without the supplies they intended to take, b
Lisa Kearns
Jun 24, 2013 Lisa Kearns rated it liked it
In Death On The Barrens, George Grinnell tells the story of a fateful three month trip across "The Barrens" - a desolate tundra area in the far North of Canada. Art Moffatt, a 36 year old drop-out dreamer, gathered together five young men to accompany him on a canoe trip during the summer. With only a little food, not enough warm clothing or outdoor equipment, these six men set off in August of 1955.

Grinnell goes into great detail about the conflicting personalities these men had, and how their
Jan 17, 2010 Toby rated it really liked it
It is strange in some ways to say that I 'enjoyed' this book since the whole story is a slow march towards disaster. Are you supposed to say that you 'enjoy' a story where you know people die? But in a sense, that's the whole point. You really know that life is on the line. It's adventure! Real adventure, where people that you come to care about are in peril. Real adventure where not everything turns out okay. But it is also the journal of a man who has experienced deep pain and loss. I never di ...more
Jul 16, 2010 Heather rated it really liked it
This book was sent to me free for review.
Death on the Barrens is the true story of six young men who embark on a canoe voyage over 900 miles long in the Canadian Arctic during the summer of 1955. Lost in the spirituality of the land the men allow the journey to drag on at too leisurely a pace. The group soon finds themselves low on food with winter moving in. A devastating canoe roll over leaves 5 of the men in the icy cold water. The leader freezes to death after this incident and the others ar
I like adventure and outdoors tales, so I thought this book would be a good fit for me. George Grinnell tells of a canoe expedition he went on in 1955 across some of the most desolate parts of Arctic Canada. The leader, Art Moffatt, dies on the trip after their canoes go over a waterfall.

Grinnell was young, and he was looking for something with more meaning than his privileged background had provided up to that point in his life. After dropping out of Harvard and a stint in the military, he was
Alli Pedersen
May 24, 2013 Alli Pedersen rated it did not like it
I can't think of the last time I was this irritated with an author. This is not a true story wilderness adventure story. It's the story of an arrogant man "finding his way". Can I tell you how arrogant? This is my favorite. He didn't. Bring gloves. To. THE ARCTIC. He said he and others had earlier in the trip, before the Arctic, you know, was the Arctic, poked fun at the one guy who brought a good sleeping bag, gloves, etc. What? I don't even understand you.

Poor little rich kid from prominent fa
Dec 15, 2014 Paul rated it liked it
i read the revised edition published by Heron Dance, with watercolor illustrations by Heron Dance founder Rod MacIver. While not a perfect piece of writing, this fairly short book possesses a commendable depth of honesty and insight. One senses a kind of mission in the telling of this story and the effort to get it published. There are many books about doomed expeditions into forbidding northern (or extreme southern) landscapes. Some are about conquest and heroism and dramatic tragedies and triu ...more
Feb 25, 2010 Chrystyna rated it liked it
This was definitely not the best wilderness survival book I have read (and I have read a lot of them). This is an account of a wilderness trip into the Canadian barrens by 6 men. it was an ill-fated adventure with a lot of different social dynamics at play. The main premise of the book is not so much what happened on the expedition, but the introspection of the author. He contemplates the meaning of life, his identity and his overall self when faced with various trials and tribulations, includin ...more
Jan 03, 2013 Sharlene rated it liked it
This book took me nearly two years to read. I set it down frequently and read other books, but always felt compelled to come back and finish the story. The author spends a lot of time in the book with the characters and the trials and tribulations of his group of 6 assorted companions getting through the Canadian Barrons.

While his narrative was interesting, I wish the last 1/4 of the book hadn't seemed so rushed. It was as if he didn't want to dwell on the accident and the tour leader's death,
Dec 01, 2013 Carla rated it it was ok
What a huge disappointment! Being a Canadian, I was looking forward to this true life adventure/courageous story of a northern Canadian canoe expedition from 1955. The writer, as he told the reader many times, came from a privileged schooling background. He sounds like a bit of a "rebel", and a spoiled brat. He idolizes the "leader" of the expedition Art Moffat.

The story is just so disjointed and some kind of introspective of idolization. It was just so weird!! At the end of the book, the autho
Apr 20, 2010 Kristina rated it liked it
This was an excellent memoir. For the outdoor and nature types I recommend this one highly. George, referring to himself as Jim in the book, tells us a heart wrenching and harrowing journey of six men through the Barrens.

This was excellent because it was told by someone that was there and experienced it; that always makes for an exceptional story. The way it is told by Jim made me feel like I was sitting in my living room with him, and he was sharing his adventure.

Not only is the adventurous sid
Oct 14, 2008 Amy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who likes survival stories i have to admit that i've only read the last few chapters of this book. nick was reading it, and then i started to read it aloud with him when he was about 2/3's through. but, it's a crazy story of survival and tough to put down. so, after nick would fall asleep, i'd keep reading.

basic plot: a bunch of guys set out on a canoe trip in northern canada, are ill-prepared and end up losing their guide in rapids. the remaining guys need to find their way to the outpost as winter quickly seep
Mar 23, 2010 Teresa rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
This book was not what I expected. Initially, it looked to me like a harrowing tale of death and survival in the brutal wilds of nature, along the lines of Jon Krakauer's "Into Thin Air" or Nando Parrado's "Miracle in the Andes." It's not. It is an interesting enough story, but Grinnell's frequent lapses into anti-establishment rants and bizarre spiritual musings can be quite annoying. The book does not strike me as a story of "courage and tragedy," as the subtitle indicates. Nobody displayed mu ...more
Mar 09, 2014 MK rated it liked it
Shelves: reviewed
Full review at

The author recounts an ill-advised, poorly planned Arctic trip from the distance of 50 years. This is a memoir, not an autobiography.

Favorite quote:
Hardworking, a judicious kisser of a**, and mentally unstable, I had all the basic qualifications for a PhD.

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Nov 17, 2009 Rick rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: canoeing
A story of an expedition to the arctic done in 1955. Well-written, but I found it hard to like the teller of the tale. It ended up being more about the author's personal psychology on an extended wilderness trip rather than the trip itself. As such, it was fairly dark. One of the six paddlers died of hypothermia on the expedition following a capsize after they did not stop to scout a rapids. The author tragically lost his father to suicide two years prior to the trip. The trip leader became some ...more
Drew Danko
Jun 15, 2010 Drew Danko rated it it was ok
This book is really about two expeditions. The one covering the canoe trip from about the 59th latitude to the 64th latitude in the Canadian artic. The other about the character development of the expedition members,a journey within as the author puts it. I would have preferred more emphasis on the first one. I enjoyed the maps, the illustrations, the quotes and the trip details as far as they went. But for me there was too much focus on the author's quest for enlightenment and his hard to accep ...more
Jan 02, 2010 Marty rated it it was amazing
This was excellent. When I read a really good (true) story, I want to know more - what happened to the others on the trip. But this was such an interesting story, I can forgive this slight exclusion.
I was glad when I saw I had won this on Goodreads as I wanted to read the story. I was reminded of "In To Thin Air." I thought this book by Mr. Grinnell was much better; flushing out a very hard and devastating look at an event that not many would or could survive.
This is an excellent look of what ha
Jan 02, 2010 Tiffany rated it it was ok
First, I should disclose that I won this book. My expectations were that I was going to hear the story of the expedition to the Barrens and Arthur Moffatt's death and then the remaining men's survival story. Some of that was included, but the book contained alot of the author's thoughts and philosophy on life. He also intertwined current facts and his theories into the story. While I didn't love the book, it was an interesting read. The second half of the book was much better than the first.
Aug 14, 2010 Nick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who has spent more than an hour in a canoe, or in the tundra
Anyone who has ever done a canoe pack trip in the great north or who has run rapids in a canoe will appreciate the beautiful descriptions of autumn tundra scenery and the harrowing tale told. The story flows beautifully between the physical descriptions of the canoe trip and the invisible bonds forming, dissolving, and reshaping between the paddlers. It is also a cautionary tale for anyone tempted to enter the great north unprepared. Consider buying this as a gift to anyone who is into canoe tri ...more
Chris Ellis
Mar 01, 2015 Chris Ellis rated it liked it
Took me a while to get through it, but worth it in the end nonetheless. A story of group dynamics, hardship, uncertainty and even courage.

Don't know if there are other editions out there, but this one has the most stunning watercolors throughout. The chapters are short and the style very easy, with a map at the head of each chapter to show you where in the journey the group is.

Would be interesting to get the same tale from the viewpoint of one of the other members of the trek.
Jan 02, 2010 Elizabeth rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: good-book, gr8, true-story
I do not like to give away a story in a blog. I just want to let you know this is a great read. I had a very hard time putting it down.
These young men go through so much yet learned many things. They face trials and tragedy & triumph . This also reflects on many things in the past that we all can relate to. It also brings you to the present to reflect on things that are most important in life.

A must read for all who like true stories . Great book....Loved it.
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