Pretty awful. She blurbles on and on and ON about, well, mostly her (and she's not a particularly interesting person). The style alone would garner twPretty awful. She blurbles on and on and ON about, well, mostly her (and she's not a particularly interesting person). The style alone would garner two (or on one of my grumpier days, one) stars. Schaub writes in that meandering "I'm chatting to you endlessly on my cell phone while imbibing a mocha caramel machiatto at Starbucks" style that, well, makes me move as far away as possible from someone talking like that in Starbucks. (Actually, generally, I just LEAVE Starbucks, true curmudgeon that I am.)
Furthermore, she draws heavily from the theories of one Dr. Lustig, a dietary guru who claims fructose causes just about every medical ill you can point at stick at. But according to a 2013 Scientific American blog, "Is Sugar Really Toxic? Sifting Through the Evidence," Lustig's assertions are greatly overstated, though, as they concede, "Even if Lustig is wrong to call fructose poisonous and saddle it with all the blame for obesity and diabetes, his most fundamental directive is sound: eat less sugar. Why? Because super sugary, energy-dense foods with little nutritional value are one of the main ways we consume more calories than we need, albeit not the only way."
So, for people like me who are struggling with weight issues, dramatically cutting down on sugar is a Good Thing. However, consuming no sugar is (or claiming to) and then writing a blog about it is what I call a stunt. As in, "Let's pitch this blog idea to an editor and see if I can get a book contract." (Guess what? The trendier the stunt, the more likely the contract will materialize.)
And, as many other reviewers haven't pointed out, she doesn't really give up sugar. What part of "NO sugar" is it that confuses her? I am currently on LITTLE sugar, but, honestly, a lot less than she and her family seem to have included in their "Year of No Sugar."
Welcome to the "I will read anything by Hampton Sides" club!
Judging by the reviews here, it's a pretty large gathering. But don't get me wrong -- I'mWelcome to the "I will read anything by Hampton Sides" club!
Judging by the reviews here, it's a pretty large gathering. But don't get me wrong -- I'm happy to have company. The third book I've read by Sides (having previously enjoyed Ghost Soldiers and Blood and Thunder), In the Kingdom of Ice ventures into one of my favorite genres: exploration. Better yet, exploration in extremely cold and dangerous places.
But, hey, you knew that already. What you may not know is how well this book stacks up against other classics of the genre, such as Alfred Lansing's Endurance, Roland Huntford's Nansen, Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air, and David Horwath's We Die Alone. As a bonus, In the Kingdom of Ice tied in nicely with another book on (mostly) arctic exploration I read not long ago, Barrow's Boys by Fergus Fleming, which chronicles the attempts to find a "Northwest Passage" through the Arctic. As in the case in Fleming's account, the Jeannette voyage was based on what, in hindsight, was a spectacularly flawed theory: that a warm polar sea lay at the top of the world and all the Jeannette's crew needed to do was find a warm northbound current to take them past the encircling ice boundary.
"What folly!" chortles the reader. Ah, but don't be so smug... recall that it was only recently (1968) that Alfred Wegener's concept of plate tectonics, first laid out in 1915, was accepted, upending the previous "contracting earth" theory. Sides does an admirable job of presenting, in compressed form, the background to the "open polar sea" theory, and delivers a sympathetic portrait of the theory's champion, August Petermann. He makes it clear that while the expedition may have been wrong to wholeheartedly adhere to the theory, they were far from foolhardy.
Indeed, the preparation for and administration of the voyage were painstakingly professional and cautious. The captain, George De Long, was in most respects the ideal person to lead the expedition, and he selected the members of his crew with great care and perspicacity. The author adroitly and vividly portrays the key crew members, falling just shy, in a few cases, of hero worship, such as for chief engineer George Melville, a distant relation to, yes, Herman. But based on the sheer facts of Melville's accomplishments, Sides' admiration is not misplaced. In fact, if I had one desire at the end of the book, it was to learn more about George W. Melville. (And perhaps I shall.)
In counterbalance to these sterling characters there are those with blots, or indeed gaping holes, in their characters, such as the self-absorbed naturalist and, mostly critically, a navigator suffering from advanced syphilis. One of the enduring appeals of reading about expeditions such as this is to learn who falls apart and who, sometimes unexpectedly, rises to challenges. Sides does a cracking job of moving the narrative along, shuttling back and forth between locales and key personnel, and even supplying the requisite love interest in the form of letters written by De Long's wife, Emma. Extracts from the letters preface most of the latter chapters and are a poignant touchstone, for her husband never receives them.
Aside from all these enjoyable facets of the book, there is also the heady and almost palpable sense of the late 1870's. The author gives the reader just enough (and not too much) cultural and political background to the era. And this is what I particularly like about Sides: he has a fine sense of proportion. On many occasions I've read a nonfiction saga like this marred by the writer's inability to rein in the impulse to disgorge background research, however tangential to the central narrative. Perhaps it's a lack of firm editing or perhaps it's a greater tolerance for topical breadth, but it is trying in any case. Hampton Sides has clearly done masses of research, but he never needlessly parades it: readers get what they need to understand the historical background but never at the expense of narrative momentum.
And this brings me to my final point: this book has wonderful pacing. I've mentioned already the author's sense of proportion, the vivid portrayal of characters, the eloquent rendering of era, and the lucid presentation of geographic theory and scientific background. Add to this an almost cinematic unfolding of the tale and you have something close to narrative perfection. It's tempting to almost mistrust a nonfiction book that reads as compulsively as fiction, but as an avid reader of both genres, I believe that when nonfiction eclipses fiction, there must be genius in both the selection of the central event and the telling of it. Bravo, Hampton Sides!