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The Man Who Ate His Boots: The Tragic History of the Search for the Northwest Passage

3.81  ·  Rating Details  ·  395 Ratings  ·  69 Reviews
In The Man Who Ate His Boots, Anthony Brandt tells the whole story of the search for the Northwest Passage, from its beginnings early in the age of exploration through its development into a British national obsession to the final sordid, terrible descent into scurvy, starvation, and cannibalism. Sir John Franklin is the focus of the book but it covers all the major expedi ...more
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Published February 3rd 2010 by Audible Books (first published 2010)
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May 31, 2010 Chris rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-canada
I picked this book because I enjoyed The Terror and that book is a "what if" about the Franklin expedition.

It's a thumping good read.

This is coming from someone who is only mildly interested in the topic of the Northwest Passage.

Brandt makes the reader feel cold, which considering the weather in Philly when I was reading this book, is surprising. I felt cold even when I was sitting outside in the sunlight.

Brandt also seems to be fair. While acknowledges the stupidity or hubris of the British in
Jun 20, 2014 Ms.pegasus rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in Arctic exploration
Shelves: nonfiction, history
Rue Britannia…
With the wisdom of hindsight, it would have been easy for Anthony Brandt to deride Britain’s obsessive search for a northwest passage in his book THE MAN WHO ATE HIS BOOTS; THE TRAGIC HISTORY OF THE SEARCH FOR THE NORTHWEST PASSAGE. Instead, Brandt has written about the half century of arctic exploration between the end of the Napoleonic Wars and the beginning of the Crimean War with sympathy and insight.
Certainly, hubris and national pride played a role in this doomed enterprise.
The story of the Franklin Expedition has always fascinated me, as did the entire Arctic quest to find the Northwest Passage. To think that it was just about a century and a half ago that mankind still didn't know what was really up there...such bravery. However, having bookshelves full of other books describing most of this Arctic adventure, I can only give this edition two stars, as it ended up reading more like a tenured professor's obligatory publication (I much prefer Barrow's Boys: The Orig ...more
Russell Libonati
Sep 25, 2015 Russell Libonati rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I listened to this book from an mp3 I downloaded from my library.

Some books are easy to listen to in the car. Others are impossible. This one was a bit difficult because there were a lot of details given. The book was a bit long for my taste as it went through more than just one explorer, which I do think was necessary. This is a history related book so if you don't like history avoid it. Personally I love survival stories and hearing about the conditions these explorers endured was fascinating
Evan Brandt
Apr 15, 2010 Evan Brandt rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not claiming objectivity here, but I must say, up to part V and have enjoyed what could have been a dusty, depressing read given the subject matter.
Not so.
The author, a lovely man, has verve and panache.

As a constant reader of history books, now that they're all the rage, there are several things I liked very much about this one.
1) It was written by my father and he's a pretty nice guy.
2) Even though I am a fan of history books, I sometimes feel like the writer is almost as glad as the reader wh
Sep 12, 2014 J.S. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Anthony Brandt tells a surprisingly interesting story of the British search for the Northwest Passage - a long-sought route to the Far East by going around the Americas to the north. While he briefly covers early efforts, the core of the book focuses on the first half of the 1800s and men like John Ross, William Edward Parry, James Clark Ross (nephew to the elder Ross), and John Franklin - the man who literally ate his boots to avoid starvation.

"Risk is the essence of exploration" (pg 140), but
History isn't written by the victor, it's written by the most kick ass wife on the winning side. Seriously, just about the only name associated with the Northwest Passage that I knew before reading this book was John Franklin's. It turns out that he didn't travel the furthest or suffer the most in the arctic ice, while he was a great adventurer, there is no proof that he ever even found a Northwest Passage. At most, he died in the vicinity of one. Luckily, he had an incredible wife who ensured t ...more
Going in to this book, I had honestly very little knowledge of Arctic exploration. It was all along the lines of "I think I maybe heard a story about something like that one time," or "Yeah, I think his name sounds familiar." Nothing concrete, and definitely nothing meaningful or useful. In fact, I'm certain that this book ended up on my reading list because of a positive review, rather than any driving interest on my part. Imagine my surprise when I found the topic kind of fascinating.

I think I
Aug 31, 2012 Punk rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Non-Fiction. Concentrates on the period of British history following the Napoleonic Wars, covering 1818-1880, with a focus on John Franklin. 1818 was the year Franklin went on his first expedition to the arctic, and 1880 saw what would be the last of the Franklin search expeditions until the end of the twentieth century. The book covers more than just Franklin, but his first and last trips act like a set of bookends, neatly propping the whole thing up.

This isn't as detailed or comprehensive as W
Jan 30, 2016 Oana rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: polar-history
A fantastic introduction to the Franklin arctic expeditions, as well as a survey of the search for the Northwest Passage.

Good details with useful source notes (make sure to read them as there are some extra details), a thorough bibliography, five maps and a chronology of expeditions from 1818-1880 (I'll be referring to this Cole's Notes list from now on). I also appreciated that the author, as an American, used the term "Inuit."

What would have been helpful is a list of maps (I had to bookmark a
Mar 26, 2013 Paula rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
It is very dry. Be prepared to read this book as you do a text book- ie with a note pad- and record every date.

While the author brings in personalities of the main players, in interesting yet brief asides, he also assumes you remember every date of every polar enterprise over a multi CENTURY period of arctic exploration. He almost NEVER relates the timing to any other event- they are simply listed as a serious of month/year...

If only he had done the math for us it would be a 3-4* book. Its har
Todd Stockslager
Jun 05, 2015 Todd Stockslager rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Sweating out the Northwest Passage

So not I'm not sure if it was the weather (90+ temperatures and wringing-wet humidity--but no rain of course!) in Raleigh that prompted me to seek solace in the vast Arctic ice floes, or if it was the title of Brandt's book. I'm always a sucker for a title like this, with a near-endless fascination by travel, adventures, and exploration at the edges of human habitation, so this book was as sure-fire of a pre-sold book as any ever published for me. And they say y
England spent a lot of time searching for a Northwest Passage for their ships. Brandt covers the gamut of efforts to find it, many of which ended tragically, and some which, miraculously enough, ended with everyone back home in England, although without having found the passage. One of the early attempts that was so incredible as to sound fictional was the 17th-century voyage of Thomas James. He had to winter in the Arctic, and to avoid having his ship crushed by ice or swept away, he and his cr ...more
Mar 24, 2010 Rebecca rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Man Who Ate His Boots is jam packed--like a Royal Navy ship trapped in a polar ice floe--with historical detail, yet thanks to Brandt's writing style, it retains a light tone that propels the action forward and makes it hard to put down. It's essential reading for anyone interested in British maritime history, Arctic exploration, the Canadian fur trade, shipwrecks, cannibalism and, of course, fans of Dan Simmons' The Terror.
May 02, 2016 Iain rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Arctic is a brutal place, which at times can be completely inhospitable to human life, but has filled explorers with visions of glory for centuries. The elusive Northwest Passage that through a polar sea would offer a route from Europe to Asia thousands of miles shorter than existing routes was the focal point of this fascination. 'The Man Who Ate His Boots: The Tragic History of the Search for the Northwest Passage' by Anthony Brandt. It chronicles the complete history of the men who ventur ...more
Feb 13, 2016 Tom rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a pretty solid overview of the history of the pre-modern exploration of the Arctic, with a strong focus on the expeditions of Sir John Franklin and Great Britain's national obsession with finding the fabled Northwest Passage.

The tale of that search and of Franklin in particular is as fraught with hubris and tragedy as any Greek classic. It deserves a strong storyteller's sensibilities. Brandt doesn't fully deliver, I feel, but he still manages to tell the tale with interest.

Most of tho
Nov 24, 2014 Victoria rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
I never thought I'd be interested in reading narrative history, or actually enjoy it, but this book defied both those assumptions. I picked this book up in Iqaluit after a 6 week field season working on Southampton Island, NU. After reading thrilling tales of steam-ship expeditions being stuck in ice for up to a year at a time, captains watching helplessly as their crew perished from scurvy and despondency, I gained a powerful appreciation of how easy it now is to travel and survive in the Arcti ...more
Jan 16, 2014 Elgin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This excellent book was a Christmas present from one of my daughters and her husband. I enjoyed it tremendously (and debated between 4 and 5 stars, finally settling on 4 because the lack of enough good maps.) I had earlier read Dan Simmons "The Terror", a fictional account of the fate of the Franklin expedition on which he led the ships Terror and Erebus on a quest for the Northwest Passage. The two books went well together and I was pleased to note that almost all that is known (and was related ...more
Matthew Ciarvella
Oct 07, 2014 Matthew Ciarvella rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014
Interesting, but not outstanding. The search for Franklin after his disappearance feels overly drawn out even though we know by the premise alone (assuming one isn't already familiar with the history) before revealing that Franklin didn't survive his expedition. The title feels misleading; this story isn't Franklin's alone, even though he is the titular man who consumed his boots. It's also the story of John Perry and several other arctic explorers.

That said, Brandt can weave an adventure narrat
This is an epic history of the (mostly British) men who attempted to navigate the Northwest Passage only to become trapped in ice winter after winter. You may recognize the names that adorn the northern landscape: Barrow, Franklin, J. Ross, J. C. Ross, Parry, Hudson, Cook, Back, etc. These were some of the major players in polar exploration. These men mapped and named many of the straights and islands of Northern Canada.

Along with becoming icebound, these discovery service explorers endured othe
Mouldy Squid
Jul 07, 2010 Mouldy Squid rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: everyone
Shelves: history
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jenny Brown
Dec 13, 2011 Jenny Brown rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A brilliant retelling of the history of Arctic exploration that culminated in the search for Sir John Franklin. It's a long, dense read but gripping throughout. Brandt brings alive the stories of the many explorers who suffered through long winters frozen into the ice living in conditions it hardly seems possible humans could survive.

He also illuminates the pigheaded stubborn bureaucrat's whose refusal to open their minds to the fact dooms hundreds of men to an unpleasant death or to permanent
Brandt's account of the often painful, tragic, and misguided search for the Northwest Passage is an eminently readable one. The book is marred by his (thankfully rare) commentary on global warming and its effect on the Arctic Sea. After an introduction in which he refers to global warming, one of his early narratives discusses exploration during a summer where passages normally closed by ice were miraculously clear. Did global warming exist that summer?

My other complaint about this well-written
Jan 29, 2016 Ruth rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Although this one didn't hold me as tightly as some other Arctic/Polar exploration books, the narrative added to my understanding of what drove men to face such dangers and privations in the name of exploration and glory. Still, the first thing I will do after I invent my time machine is go back to England in the 19th Century and have some stern words with more than a few parties regarding qualifications, preparations, and risk vs. rewards.
Apr 13, 2012 Cody rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: best-history
Mr. Brandt has written a very detailed, well constructed and entertaining narrative on England's search for the northwest passage. The fate of the crews of the Terror and Erebus have fascinated scholars for years, and while there have been numerous books published over the years on Franklin's expedition, this could very well be the most thoroughly researched. Mr. Brandt does an excellent job of recounting all of the different accounts of each expedition and the many rescue attempts that followed ...more
Excellent account of the long-lasting British search for the Northwest Passage through the frozen seas of northern Canada.

Narrator is fantastic, but I might recommend the physical book as maps would have made the travel routes easier to follow.

And now I'm off to track down a book about the intriguing Lady Jane Franklin.
John Tweedie
Feb 26, 2014 John Tweedie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting account of the futile, mainly British attempts to find the Northwest Passage between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Well written and a good read. An aspect of history that I knew nothing about and the author made it come alive.
Jun 04, 2015 Erik rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Not entirely sure what to make of this book. It's clearly intended for the popular audience, but Brandt assumes that the reader has quite a bit of knowledge about the subject already - inadequate and infrequent maps only highlight his habit of talking about places without explaining where they are and how they relate to each other.

He is, however, much better job on the social history of the search for the Northwest Passage. The cast is large and often contentious, and he does a fine job of clar
I've read a bit about Arctic exploration in my time, and this book is a great representation of the genre. Brandt manages to portray the history of the search for the Northwest Passage and the subsequent search for Sir John Franklin without bogging down in technicalities or losing momentum. I love these stories not only because they are about Canada (the Arctic is as fascinating a place as you can find in the world), but also because they show so vividly what humanity can endure, and how ridicul ...more
Oct 26, 2014 Briant rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a very engaging read. However, it reveals the lunacy of exploration in which millions of dollars in today's currency searching for the Northwest passage.
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From Random House:

Anthony Brandt is the editor of the Adventure Classics series published by National Geographic Society Press, and the books editor at National Geographic Adventure magazine. Formerly the book critic at Men’s Journal, Brandt has written for The Atlantic, GQ, Esquire, and many other magazines, and is the author of two previous books. He lives in Sag Harbor, New York.

More about Anthony Brandt...

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