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In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette

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On July 8, 1879, Captain George Washington De Long and his team of thirty-two men set sail from San Francisco on the USS Jeanette. Heading deep into uncharted Arctic waters, they carried the aspirations of a young country burning to be the first nation to reach the North Pole.

Two years into the voyage, the Jeannette's hull was breached by an impassable stretch of pack ice, forcing the crew to abandon ship amid torrents of rushing of water. Hours later, the ship had sunk below the surface, marooning the men a thousand miles north of Siberia, where they faced a terrifying march with minimal supplies across the endless ice pack.

Enduring everything from snow blindness and polar bears to ferocious storms and labyrinths of ice, the crew battled madness and starvation as they struggled desperately to survive. With thrilling twists and turns, In The Kingdom of Ice is a tale of heroism and determination in the most brutal place on Earth.

454 pages, Hardcover

First published August 5, 2014

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Hampton Sides

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Profile Image for Jeffrey Keeten.
Author 3 books248k followers
December 1, 2019
”About the same time the sun vanished, the ice began to move again. The noise was terrible---first the sounds of the ice warring with itself, then the more dreadful sounds of the ice warring with the ship. The turbulence started early on a cold November morning. De Long was awakened by a ‘grinding and crushing---I know of no sound on shore that can be compared to it,’ he said. ‘A rumble, a shriek, a groan, and a crash of a falling house all combined might convey an idea.’”

 photo USS Jeannette_zpsyxagv5jg.jpg
USS Jeannette

Little was known about the Arctic in 1879, but there were a lot of theories regarding the best way to reach the Arctic and also regarding what the explorers would find once they reached their goal. Though the science of these theories may have been suspect, the enthusiasm that these theorists possessed was infectious and represented the desire that most explorers, amateur and professional, had for discovering the secrets of the Arctic. One such theory, that there was a warm polar sea on the other side of the ice barrier, was used in a story by Edgar Allan Poe called The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket.

 photo George20Washington20De20Long_zpsdhzoj4ix.jpg
George Washington De Long

George Washington De Long had long been bitten by the pagophilic bug. When the chance came for him to command a vessel to explore a route through the Arctic, he gleefully volunteered. With the financial assistance of the very rich owner of the New York Herald, James Gordon Bennett, Jr., they found a ship, refitted it for Arctic travel, and christened it the USS Jeannette, named after Bennett’s sister.

De Long and Bennett were an odd pairing, a matching of the self made and the silver spooned. De Long was very serious, but also determined. He was not afraid to ask for what he needed or go after what he wanted. Bennett was born rich and was quite capable of acting like a self-obsessed ass. ”Bennett had a habit of strolling into one of the finest establishments in Paris or New York and snatching the table linens as he proceeded down the aisle, smashing plates and glassware on the floor, to the horror of the dining patrons, until he reached his reserved table in the back. (He never failed to write a check for the damages.)” I couldn't imagine myself sitting there and allowing a man to walk by and yank my meal out from under my nose without taking exception. (Duel level exception.) He also lost an engagement by arriving at his fiancee’s house roaring drunk and pissed in the fireplace. I’m sure he had some good qualities, but on the most basic human level, he was lacking manners and completely undisciplined.

Bennett was the man who sent Henry Morton Stanley after David Livingstone. He sold piles of newspapers by, in a sense, creating news. As it turned out, Livingstone wasn’t in need of finding, so this idea to explore the Arctic felt like a similar story opportunity to Bennett.

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James Gordon Bennett, Jr.

The subtitle of the book is ”The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette.” The grand part was the excitement and anticipation of preparing for the trip with the hope of returning as conquering heroes of the frozen North. The whole rest of the trip was the terrible part, tragic really. They become trapped in the ice and spent two years drifting with an ice pack until the day the ice shifted and crushed the Lady Jeannette into pieces.

Then began a desperate bid for survival that took them across the ice with the help of their dogs and three small boats. They fought hunger and frostbite…”...when he pulled off his boots, Leach saw that his toes were turning blue-black, the skin and nails curling backwards, like feathers singed by a flame.” Needless to say, the conditions were abominable with howling winds, storms, and cold temperatures that plunged well below anything most of us will ever experience.

I was enthralled. I could not put this book down. Once the tale sunk it’s icy needles into my bloodstream, I was freezing off important body parts right along with the men of the Jeannette. Hampton Sides benefited from the fact that numerous members of the crew made detailed journal entries. They were well aware that what they were attempting was historic. One of the poignant aspects of the book was the letters that Emma and George De Long wrote to each other while apart. Here is one of my favorites from Emma:

”All this will be forgotten when we meet again; it will seem only as a bad dream---a fearful nightmare that has been successfully passed through. However dangerous your surroundings are at present I can still trust God and hope a little longer. I often dream of you and you seem all right, only sad and not as strong as you used to be. Oh darling! I cannot show you my love, my sympathy, my sorrow for your great sufferings. I pray to God constantly. My own darling husband, struggle, fight, live, come back to me!”

 photo Emma20De20Long_zpskh1oahyd.jpg
Emma De Long

The bravery and resourcefulness that was exhibited by nearly every crew member spoke to the wonderful job that De Long did in finding the right men for this arduous and dangerous trip. A few suffered from melancholy as the months passed, but most of the crew was intent on carrying their own weight and contributing to the well-being of the entire group. George Melville, a distant relative of Herman Melville, was the Macgyver of the group. He could take any pile of junk and turn it into some amazingly useful piece of machinery. He went on to have a long, successful career in the Navy. ”Melville presided over an expansive redesign of the fleet, largely completing its conversion from wood to metal, and from wind to steam power. When he retired, in 1903, the U.S. Navy boasted one of the most powerful modernized fleets in the world.”

Pull on your boots and your thickest parka, and experience the grand and the terrible. You will find, like me, that you will become fond of these men and maybe even more fond of their dogs.

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com
I also have a Facebook blogger page at:https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten
Profile Image for Matt.
935 reviews28.6k followers
November 8, 2019
By endurance we conquer
-- Sir Ernest Shackleton's family motto

The tree has been dragged to the curb. The lights are all packed. The wrapping paper has been recycled. All the new toys have been forgotten by the children, who are already asking for newer toys. Christmas is over. The long dark of the year has begun.

The other day I had the following conversation with my five year-old. It started when I asked her if she could sing something other than Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. You know, before I punched myself into unconsciousness.

MILLIE: Is Christmas over?
ME: Yes.
MILLIE: Then how come it’s still winter?
ME: Because it’s a cruel world.
MILLIE: What’s “cruel”?
ME: You know, it’s like we’re in Narnia, under the White Witch.
MILLIE: Is that the movie with Bilbo?
ME: [Rubbing temples] Just sing something from Moana, okay?
MILLIE: Can I watch the iPad instead?
ME: [Resigned nod of head]

The beacon of winter, the parties, the wine, the cookies, is in the past. Now it’s just cold. Cold without joy. Books are an escape. But escape to where? One school of thought says to read something warm. Pretend you are in a better place, without freezing rainstorms, lung-aching wind chills, and dress shoes eaten away by road salt.

I didn't go in that direction, though. I steered into the skid. I went to my bookshelf to find the most miserable title about winter I could find. Hampton Sides’ In the Kingdom of Ice turned out to be the perfect choice.

In the Kingdom of Ice tells the true story of the 1879 Polar expedition of the U.S.S. Jeanette. The expedition was run by the U.S. Navy, but was funded by the wealthy, unconventional James Gordon Bennett, Jr., who owned The New York Herald. It was Bennett who’d sent Stanley to find Livingstone, and he understood the advantages of both making and reporting the news.

The expedition set sail from San Francisco under the command of Lieutenant Commander George De Long, who’d already proven his mettle and courage among the ice floes of the Arctic The purpose of the Jeanette expedition was to reach the North Pole via the Bering Strait. The ship did not make much headway before getting stuck fast in the ice pack, northeast of Wrangel Island.

For nearly two years, the Jeanette drifted in a northwesterly direction. The ship had been well designed and well provisioned, and the men handled the situation with remarkable aplomb. The greatest trials they faced during this time was irritation with one another, especially a civilian expedition member who loved punning.

Then, on June 12, 1881, the unrelenting pressure of the ice crushed the Jeanette and sent her to the bottom. All 33 crewmembers survived the initial sinking. They also managed to salvage a decent supply of provisions and three small boats. Now the real adventure began. A journey of hundreds of miles across a frozen sea, through a maze-like labyrinth of ice. They overcame hunger and storms, blindness and despair. One guy even had progressive syphilitic conditions, which is tough enough on dry land (or so I’m told). Most never made it home again.

Sides tells this story brilliantly. To my mind, he is one of the best author-historians working today. It begins with his characterizations, which are deep and well-rounded. The people who walk across this stage are brought memorably back to life. Start with Bennett, the founder of the feast. The word eccentric doesn’t do him justice. This is a man who once covered the front page of his newspaper with a fake story about animals getting loose from the zoo and running amuck. Wait, you say, fake news is nothing. That happens every day now. But this is also a man who lost his fiancé when he went to her house, drank some punch, and then urinated into the grand piano. Sides also develops August Petermann, the troubled German cartographer who believed that warm ocean currents created an Open Polar Sea, and Emily De Long, wife of the commander, who wrote countless poignant letters with no sure destination for them to be mailed.

In Sides' hands, the crew of the Jeanette become like old pals. There is Melville, the chief engineer, a sort of 19th century MacGyver; Nindemann, a hearty quartermaster of “ferocious competency”; and Jerome Collins, a meteorologist, Herald correspondent, and pun-master extraordinaire. The calm center of this storm is Commander De Long. In photographs he does not appear imposing; bookish, rather, and sometimes bespectacled. But he was strong and brave and tough as hell.

Sides delivers this epic saga with a wealth of detail. He does an excellent job setting the context of Polar exploration, describing in detail Petermann’s theory that a ring of ice floes surrounded a life-sustaining landmass at the top of the world. The evocation of shipboard life once the Jeanette has wedged into the ice is fascinating. Days, months, years went by, and the men remained in place, hunting, taking scientific measurements, exercising, celebrating holidays, and gradually moving at the pace of the sea. The crew’s trek once the Jeanette sinks is told in excruciating detail. You are right there with them as their chances to survive ebb and flow.

It helps that Sides has a good historical record to work with. When the Franklin Expedition went missing, there were no survivors to tell the story, and precious little evidence. Here, men survived to explain what happened. Books were written by the survivors. More than that, De Long went to extraordinary lengths to save the expedition’s logs and journals – even to the extent of hampering their escape. This means there is a wealth of eyewitness testimony to give depth to this story. We are often privy to the thoughts and feelings of the crew as their plight unfolds.

Of course, having a bunch of material to work with is one thing; actually using it to your advantage is another. Sides is more than up to this challenge. He does an excellent job structuring the narrative to create tension and suspense. My general rule, as I’ve stated elsewhere, is that works of history do not require “spoiler” tags, for the simple reason that we’re dealing with actual human beings. When we speak of men who actually walked the earth, the answer of who lives, who dies, is not typically an article of amusement. Here, though, Sides writes with an assumption (in my case accurate) that you are unfamiliar with this tale. He teases out the drama without being exploitative. The result is compelling, even powerful. Sides is a natural and effortless storyteller.

There is something almost perverse in De Long’s mission. They sailed up north knowing they’d get stuck in the ice, but did so anyway, in pursuit of a chimera, a warm water ocean surrounded by ice. The Jeanette expedition disproved that idea and mapped some islands, but nothing they did can be said to have been worth a life. Yet they followed an ancient human impulse; and while many (so, so many) human impulses are small and petty, this one is large and spirited and big-hearted. Sometimes it takes a fool’s errand to discover how transcendent of pain and obstacles a person can be.

In the Kingdom of Ice doesn’t need me to imbue it with any platitudes. More than anything else, it is damn entertaining history. It certainly puts winter in perspective. Yes, it is a pain to scrape my car’s windshield in the morning, but at least it was not crushed by enormous blocks of ice. And though I do not enjoy shoveling my driveway before dawn, in order to get to work, at least I don’t have to boil my shoes and eat them for sustenance.
Profile Image for Beata.
749 reviews1,151 followers
August 6, 2019
Some fiction books read like not that exciting non-fiction, and some non-fiction books turn out to be really unputdownable. For me, this was the case with In the Kingdom of Ice. The story of the Jeannette and her crew who committed themselves to sail to the North Pole, terra incognita in the second half of the 19th century, is compelling. Mr Sides provides us with all details regarding the preparations for the voyage of which I had known nothing. Thorough research is one thing, another thing is how the authour manages to put all the facts into a story and here Mr Sides yet again is a master of story telling.
In the Kingdom of Ice is a book which I highly recommend to anybody interested in brave and tough men who wanted to know more ...
Profile Image for Nancy Oakes.
1,937 reviews749 followers
December 22, 2014
I know I just added this book yesterday, but I opened it at 1 pm when it arrived, let everything else go, skipped dinner, and read the entire night through because I could not put it down. I guess you might say that I LOVED this book:

a) It's about polar exploration, probably my favorite nonfiction reading topic in the universe, b) it's by Hampton Sides, who has not let me down yet with any of his books, and c) it's just so engrossing that I couldn't stop reading it. I'm pretty tired and cranky right now, but what the hell -- it was so worth it. Once again Hampton Sides has proven that he is not only a master of his topic but also a master of storytelling.

I've written up my thoughts about this book at the nonfiction page of my online reading journal; feel free to click on over. For now, I'll just reiterate how fanbloodytastic I found this book.

I seriously can't do this book the justice it deserves, but In the Kingdom of Ice is an absolutely phenomenal story told by a master storyteller, and it deserves as wide of a reading audience as possible. Even readers who might not normally be excited about the history of polar exploration would love this book -- the story is harrowing enough, but Mr. Sides highlights the humanity and the sheer bravery of these heroic men facing the unendurable in one of the most unforgiving environments in the world. The book literally reads like a novel, complete with cliffhangers, moments for rejoicing, and above all, page-turning scenes making it impossible to set the book down. It's an ultimate true "rollicking adventure" story, one that should be on everyone's reading list. To answer other reader criticism, yes, there's a lot of detail involved, but none of it is wasted space or used as padding as so often seems to be the case. I cannot recommend this book highly enough -- on the favorites list of 2014.

... someone should get in touch with Ken Burns -- this would make a fascinating PBS special.
Profile Image for Howard.
339 reviews244 followers
August 29, 2021
In the fall of 2006, I drove from Santa Fe to Taos, New Mexico and walked into the Kit Carson Home and Museum. When I entered I spotted an individual sitting behind one table while another nearby table held a stack of books. It was obvious that he was a writer promoting a book.

Taos, which hosts a number of festivals and celebrations every year, can be a busy little village at times, but not that day. There wasn’t much going on. In fact, there were only two other visitors besides me in the museum and they were indicating no interest in the book. More out of a sense of compassion than anything else, I walked over to the table containing the books, and when I looked at the cover I immediately recognized the author’s name. It was Hampton Sides.

I recognized his name because I had just recently read one of his other books. Ghost Soldiers, published in 2001, the story of a successful World War II mission to liberate over five hundred POW's being held in the Philippines, including the last survivors of the Bataan Death March, was a well-told tale of heroism.

I thought Ghost Soldiers was an excellent book about a little known, but extraordinary event and this new book, Blood and Thunder, really aroused my curiosity, too. It is the story of a controversial chapter in the life of Kit Carson. Most people know that he was a mountain man, trapper, explorer and scout, but few know that he was a union officer during the Civil War, and that in that position he played a major role in the brutal subjugation and repression of the Navajos.

So, what more appropriate place to promote a book about Kit Carson than in the Kit Carson Home and Museum? Appropriate, yes; successful, no.

Naturally, I purchased a copy, not out of compassion, but because I was hooked by the subject matter. Because nobody else was taking up any of his time, I not only had a signed first edition, but I was able to hold a rather lengthy conversation with him, in which I was able to tell him how much I had admired his earlier book. I found out that he was a native of Memphis, Tennessee and that he lived in Santa Fe, which is not all that far from Taos. It turned out to be a good day for me, but I'm afraid not a profitable one for him.

Well, you probably know that the critics praised Blood and Thunder to high heaven and that the book became a best seller, and that a film adaptation is even in the works.

In 2010, Hellhound on His Trail was another critical and popular success. The subtitle tells the tale: The Stalking of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the International Hunt for His Assassin. And it too may become a film.

It goes without saying that a lot of readers besides me have discovered Hampton Sides. If any further evidence is needed all one has to do is check out the number of ratings, reviews, and average ratings of these books here on Goodreads. And the critical acclaim for all three has been, as far as I can tell, almost universal.

What could he possibly write that would top his other books? Well, how about writing about an arctic expedition that nobody remembers? Not a good idea? But how many people knew about that WWII rescue mission or Kit Carson's Civil War experiences?

The result is In the Kingdom of Ice and I think it is as good, and in some respects even better, than his other work. The subtitle tells us much about this book, too: The Grand and Terrible Voyage of the USS Jeannette. It is the story of George Washington DeLong’s attempt in 1879 to sail his ship and its crew to the North Pole. The expedition was based on the faulty notion that if a ship could break through the ice barrier that it would sail into an open polar sea. Unfortunately, after only two months the ship, the three-masted and steam-powered Jeannette, became entrapped in ice at the 72nd parallel and remained confined for two years, drifting with the ice pack.

What follows is a harrowing tale of gritty and desperate determination by the crew of thirty-three to survive and return home despite the fact that they were a thousand miles from the nearest land.

Because I don’t want to ruin the story for others, I choose not to reveal what happened thereafter.

Sides’ great strength is that he is not only a thorough researcher and talented writer, but that he also knows how to tell a story. He graduated college with a degree in American history, but his background is in magazine journalism. Thus, he is an historian who became a journalist, rather than the other way around, which is more often the case. He is editor at large for Outdoor magazine and has written for various other publications including National Geographic and The New Yorker.

His work reminds me of that of three other writers whose admirable storytelling skills are such that they are able to write nonfiction that reads like a novel. Those three are Jon Krakauer, Sebastian Junger, and Nathaniel Philbrick. I once thought that Sides might someday rank with those writers, but I now think that with his latest book he has surpassed them.
Profile Image for Beverly.
833 reviews315 followers
July 5, 2019
I have read 5 or 6 of these types of polar adventure books and this one is one of the best I've found. I am not usually keen on non-fiction and I only read a handful a year, but this is exceptional.

The last one I read was on the Greely expedition and was entitled Ghosts of Cape Sabine. Greely was a terrible captain and not the shining example seen here in George Washington De Long. De Long was smart, capable, and a natural leader whose men followed him willingly.

The terrible things that occurred on the doomed voyage were not because of lack of planning, poor materials, or lack of brave and stalwart men, it was instead, the unknown information on the arctic region that stymied them. Maps were poor or non-existent because no one had been there past certain points. Foolhardy ideas about what they would find there were in circulation, put forth by cartographers.about a warm vortex of ocean water, like the Gulf Stream, that would open up the polar sea after a certain point to smooth sailing. It was all tragically too much for the poor men to overcome.
Profile Image for Paula K .
435 reviews417 followers
October 8, 2017
What a journey!

I listened to this audiobook and was totally enthralled. The struggle for survival the crew of the USS Jeannette went through was a fight-for-your-life adventure. Lt. George DeLong and his engineer, Melville, were heroic characters that everyone would love. Their expedition to the North Pole was amazing and harrowing. What the crew went through to get to the Siberian Coast was an edge-of-the-seat listening experience.

Don't miss this nonfiction tale of survival, starvation, and the will to live.
Profile Image for Michael.
1,094 reviews1,536 followers
November 18, 2014
A terrific read about a doomed American attempt to sail to the North Pole via the Bering Strait in 1879. I didn’t set out thinking I wanted to read a harrowing account of an Arctic exploration. But based on five-star reads of two previous books by Sides, I took to heart that when a great cook asks you for dinner, you don’t need to bother asking what is being served. I knew I could count on him to make stories from history come alive with all the drama and character development you expect from great fiction.

The premise of the sea voyage of the U.S.S. Jeanette was based on a widespread belief that the polar region was an area of open sea due to the warm currents of the Gulf Stream and a comparable northerly flow in the Pacific (the Kuro-Siwo Current). People hungry to fill in the huge geographical blank in human knowledge came to trust the world famous Austrian cartographer August Petermann on this concept. While others like Franklin concentrated on finding a sailing route for the Northwest Passage , a number of expeditions tried and failed to get past the ice pack above Greenland. A young Navy Lieutenant, George De Long, proved his mettle on a rescue search for one such attempt and acquired a fervor for the remote and dangerous beauty of the high latitudes. It took little for money man James Gordon Bennett, owner of the New York Herald, to wind him up to plan and lead a new attempt via the Pacific under his funding.

George De Long, showing wisdom and character--would you follow him to the ends of the earth?

De Long and Bennett make an odd partnership. De Long is totally pragmatic, organized, warm hearted, and a natural leader. Bennett is extravagant, mercurial, selfish, tyrannical, and so outrageously eccentric that he out trumps Donald Trump. He was notoriously for regularly racing his buggy around Central Park at night in the nude. He ruined a chance at marrying the aristocratic woman of is dreams by openly peeing at a fancy party at her folks mansion. Yet, was successful in running the largest newspaper in the world, upping circulation by such tricks as a false story of rampaging animals from the city zoo and by sending Stanley on a quest to find Livingstone in Africa. Above all, he excelled in competition, such as yacht-racing and polo, and so was game for beating other nations to the pole (and selling lots of papers as a side benefit).

The story of De Long finding his ship, assembling his crew, picking all the equipment he might need, and refitting the ship to withstand iceberg collisions makes for surprisingly fascinating reading. Effective political maneuvering got the initiative placed under U.S. Navy auspices. His courtship and marriage to Emma reveals much about his character and source for some of his endurance on the journey to come. Her tolerance of his quest was enhanced by watching him in action on the long sail from New York to San Francisco, where the long refitting was accomplished. The 30-man crew of sailors, scientists, engineers, a physician, a Chinese cook, and dozens of sled dogs was the best that one could imagine.

I won’t spoil the fun by revealing much on the outcomes. I can say that some far northern islands were discovered, that the ship was trapped in the ice for a long time, and that at one point the crew has to make about a thousand mile trip in cutters to reach Siberia. With one exception of a neurotic naturalist and a navigator whose syphilis affected his brain, the voyage overall was marked by generous humanity and harmony, and their teamwork, courage, and feats of endurance were magnificent to experience. Only upon reaching the boggy and labyrinthine delta of the Lena River as winter approached did their supplies, skills, and luck fail them. Some made it and many did not. Your heart will glow over the accomplishments of the former, and you will likely weep as I did for the latter. Take heart: no cannibalism!

Landing on what they named “Bennett Island” after a cutter excursion from the icepack where they were marooned--800 miles more to go to reach the Siberian mainland

I will look forward to reading anything Sides writes in the future, the same as I do for Nathaniel Philbrick. This book gave me the same level of pleasure as I got from Philbrick’s “In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex”, and it was more enjoyable for me that his more comparable tale of exploration, “Sea of Glory”, which covered a wide-ranging U.S. Navy expedition including an early probe of Antarctica around 1840.

Profile Image for Diane.
1,081 reviews2,717 followers
July 26, 2015
What a fascinating book! In the Kingdom of Ice has some of my favorite things: a grand expedition, outdoor adventure and an amazing survival story. There's even an eccentric media mogul to provide extra color.

In 1879, George De Long and his crew sailed away from San Francisco in search of the North Pole. They never reached it — the ship got trapped in ice and sank, stranding the men on an ice cap with only meager supplies. Incredibly, most of the crew survived for several more months and reached the Siberian coast, where the survivors were eventually helped by local tribes.

The expedition had been backed by James Gordon Bennett Jr., the wealthy owner of The New York Herald. Bennett's goal, besides helping to find the Pole, was to get exclusive details of the journey for his newspaper. (Bennett once said that man doesn't matter — the only thing that mattered was the newspaper.)

The book alternates between De Long's journey and what was happening back home. When the crew hadn't been heard from in a while, a rescue mission was attempted, but the ship wasn't found. It seemed ages before De Long's poor wife learned what happened to her husband.

One of my favorite details of the book was about the myths of the North Pole. At the time, there was the mistaken belief that there would be an "open polar sea" at the pole, and that ships would have no trouble sailing straight there. It was fun seeing the different ideas debunked as the crew continued on their journey.

Hampton Sides is an excellent and engaging writer. Here he pulls together compelling details from journals, letters, newspaper accounts and other works, and the result is a thrilling work of history. Highly recommend for anyone who wants to delve into a good adventure story.

Favorite Quotes
"[De Long] became more and more intrigued by the Arctic, by its lonely grandeur, by its mirages and strange tricks of light, its mock moons and blood-red halos, its thick, misty atmospheres, which altered and magnified sounds, leaving the impression that one was living under a dome. He felt as though he were breathing rarefied air. He became intrigued by the phenomenon of the 'ice blink,' the spectral glow in the low sky that indicated the presence of a large frozen pack ahead. The scenery grew more impressive: ice gouged fjords, towering bergs calved fresh from glaciers, the crisp sound of cold surf lapping against the pack, ringed seals peeking through gaps in the ice, bowhead whales spouting in the deep gray channel. This was the purest wilderness De Long had ever seen, and he began to fall in love with it."

"James Gordon Bennett's most original contribution to modern journalism could be found in his notion that a newspaper should not merely report stories; it should create them. Editors should not only cover the news, he felt; they should orchestrate large-scale public dramas that stir emotions and get people talking."

"The North Pole. The top of the world. The acme, the apogee, the apex. It was a magnetic region but also a magnetic idea. It loomed as a public fixation and a planetary enigma — as alluring and unknown as the surface of Venus or Mars. The North Pole was both a physical place and a geographer's abstraction, an pinpoint-able location where curved lines met on the map. It was a spot on the globe where, if you could stand there, any direction you headed in would be, by definition, south. It was a place of perpetual darkness for one half of the year and perpetual sunlight for the other. There, in a sense, chronology stood still, for at the pole all the time zones of the world converged."
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Cathrine ☯️ .
629 reviews349 followers
March 8, 2019
4.5 ❄️ ❄️ ❄️ ❄️
If your back was up against an iceberg these are the kind of men you would want by your side. Extraordinary fortitude and courage in the grand and terrible kingdom of ice. Hampton Sides writes nonfiction that reads like an epic adventure story. The audio was excellent.
Profile Image for LA Cantrell.
424 reviews553 followers
January 21, 2018
I don't always read nonfiction, but when I do, it's the good stuff. Since reading The Birthday Boys with Kirk and the A-Team Readers, the allure of the icy poles has hit me hard. Well, as long as it is the turn of the 19th century, time-wise...

First up, here is a happy spoiler: MEN SURVIVED THIS! Don't ruin the experience by reading the blurb or googling the journey of the Jeannette. Go in blind (or snow-blind), and let the story unfurl like an American flag planted in the ice.

The basics? In the late 1800s, the world was looking toward discovery in its wildest, far flung reaches. Remember hearing that old phrase, "Livingston, I presume?" Yeah. Livingston was apparently happily living in the Congo, collecting anthropological l information when some NY newspaper correspondent named Stanley showed up checking in on him.

The correspondent was hired by a high-powered, eccentric newspaperman named Bennet. This same ridiculously wealthy man also wanted to cover THE voyage that would discover the open sea at the north pole of the world. Um, yeah. Until global warming heats up a little bit more, there is no such thing as an open sea up there... but on they went! You might have read about the Franklin expedition and others from great Britain which failed in achieving access to the pole. But how about an American attempt? It would bring national glory and a quick commercial trade route with Asia - a short cut across the top of the world.

An extremely well prepared and excited commander was found. DeLong was up for it, and he started the journey with his wife and five-year-old daughter aboard. God, how he hated to later cast off without them for the three year journey, but the fever of exploration was on him.

With total respect and utmost reverence, the commander of this selfless quest and his crew get way more than the five stars we can present here. DeLong and his men went through ridiculous and bizarre circumstances and came out hopeful and happy to have taken on their task. Ice, sea, and more assailed them...but sled dogs, native Inuits, a German whose feet would NOT submit to frostbite, and HUGE courage from the 30 men compounded to save some of them.

This book is extremely well researched, and the published journals of the commander and others made me feel like I was right there with them. While this is not Indiana Jones, the tension that ebbs and flows was written like something from an action adventure script.

If you are up for some real world history and courage like little we have seen recently, I highly recommend this.

Honestly? Part of me fantasizes that I could be worthy of being an explorer like this, and if my vision were better (and I did not vomit with even a touch of motion sickness while in the car), the astronaut program is something I might have wished for. Im a geologist and geophysicist - my dreams are totally Exploration-bound. These men? In the 1800s? They WERE our astronauts and my heroes.

I hail DeLong and the others and their descendants. That a happy ending reached more than a dozen of them cheers me!!

They had the right stuff, and I am ever grateful to the author for allowing me to glimpse a bit of their stardust.

Nearly five stars
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Jim.
1,167 reviews70 followers
May 17, 2023
A story of exploration and an incredible struggle to survive--this is the story of the voyage of the USS Jeannette into the Arctic Ocean by way of the Bering Strait. All the more interesting to me because I had never heard of this expedition, knowing only when I started the book that the expedition was doomed to fail and not reach the North Pole-- or find an icefree route through the Arctic (the long-sought for "Northwest Passage"). I did not know how many of the 33 men (with dogs) would survive the ordeal, so the story kept me in suspense up to the end to see if anyone-man or canine- could make it back alive.
This mission which set off in 1879 was based on faulty premises that certainly helped to doom it from the start. A leading cartographer in Germany named August Peterman believed there was an Open Polar Sea at the North Pole warmed by sea currents from the south. Based on that idea, it was believed that a ship would be able to reach the North Pole. As many expeditions had failed to get past Greenland, it was felt there was a better chance to reach the Pole from the Bering Strait. Furthermore, Peterman believed that there was a transpolar continent stretching from northern Greenland to the mysterious "Wrangel Land" north of Siberia. This land had been reported by Baron von Wrangel, who heard of it from Siberian natives but was unable to get through the ice to even see it. So one purpose of the expedition was to ascertain if Wrangel Land existed and, if it did, to see if it was part of an unknown continent (and also to plant the US flag and claim it for the USA-- if it existed!). Now, it seems that people back then had some laughable ideas---but they didn't know and perhaps anything could have existed in what was the biggest remaining blank spot on the map. After all, no one had imagined the Americas blocking Asia from Europe.
In the end, it's an almost unbelievable (and well-told) story of heroism and survival. And we meet some remarkable--and now forgotten--persons, some surviving--and some who didn't.
Profile Image for Jill Hutchinson.
1,480 reviews104 followers
July 28, 2020
This book started out with a bang and just kept getting better the longer I read. In the late 19th century, the world was fascinated by the North Pole since very little was known about it. Numerous explorers attempted the voyage and the majority were never heard of again. All of them began their trek from Greenland but one noted geographer believed that traveling through the Bering Sea from Alaska would be a better starting point. He also stated that there was a warm sea (the Open Polar Sea) surrounding the Pole just beyond the ice barrier and might be actually semi-tropical.

A young Naval office, George DeLong caught the North Pole fever and was determined to reach it, believing in the theory of the above mentioned geographer. He gather an excellent crew, received total financial backing from the wealthy newspaper owner, James Gorden Bennett Jr. and had the ship, the Jennifer built which he felt would withstand the dangers ahead. In July, 1879, the expedition into the unknown was launched.

I will not spoil the story except to say that the bravery of this crew was almost beyond belief. The author describes in detail the horrible conditions that faced them and their efforts to reach the Pole. His research is excellent and it is as if he was actually on the ship.

The story holds your attention from page one and the experiences of the ship and crew practically jump from the pages. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Chrissie.
2,780 reviews1,459 followers
July 1, 2019
THIS is one of those books that very many will enjoy.

It is both plot and character driven.
It is non-fiction that is never dry.
It keeps your interest from start to finish.

Hampton Sides is an author you can rely on. He delivers well composed books that are accurate, interesting and engaging.

The book will appeal not only to those curious about polar history.

I was drawn by the author’s attention to biographical detail. There were thirty-three onboard the Jeanette. Readers are given an in-depth description of many of them. It is often difficult for authors to bring to life such a large cast of characters, but Sides does. Above and beyond the thirty–three on the ship, Hampton Sides also engagingly depicts Captain George Washington De Long’s wife, Emma, the expedition’s financial sponsor, James Gordon Bennett, Jr. (1841 – 1918) and German cartographer August Heinrich Petermann (1822-1878). If you have perhaps read The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World, your interest will be piqued to hear of fellow geographer and Gotha resident Petermann! It is, at least for me, the people, the historical figures, who make history interesting. In this book you learn about them, not only what happens and diverse facts about the weather, the ship, the food and all that the ship carried.

You learn about how people of the 1870s believed it to be up on the North Pole, before anyone had ever been there. Their guesses were all wrong! You learn about the era’s age of invention through a description of the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. The author makes every topic interesting. The New York Herald’s publisher, James Gordon Bennett, Jr.’s eccentricities, his speed-walking race with John Whipple and his engagement with Caroline May are amusingly described. Anecdotal stories make each person’s idiosyncrasies come alive. You learn about Inuit traditions and beliefs. Some might say the author gets off track. I say, he makes historical events interesting, amusing, captivating.

I have not spoken of the officially named U.S. Arctic Expedition (1879-1881), led by George W. De Long, because that you already know is the book’s central focus. It is good to know that Hampton Sides makes the reader feel what it is like to be in these cold, frigid, frightening expanses. One shivers from both cold and fear.

Arthur Morey narrates the audiobook perfectly. I have given his narration five stars.

If you have enjoyed the classic, Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing, you must read this.


The Voyage of the Jeannette: The Ship and Ice Journals of George W. De Long, Lieutenant-commander U.S.N. and Commander of the Polar Expedition of 1879-1881, Volume I & II by George Washington De Long
Icebound: the Jeannette Expedition's Quest for the North Pole by Leonard F. Guttridge

Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage 4 stars by Alfred Lansing
The Ice Master 2 stars by Jennifer Niven
The Long Exile 4 stars by Melanie McGrath

By Hampton Sides: Blood and Thunder: An Epic of the American West 4 stars
Profile Image for Sofia.
72 reviews69 followers
May 5, 2014
It'll be a terrible injustice (and frankly perplexing) if this book doesn't become one of the big hits of this fall and holiday season.
It's a completely amazing and terrifying real story, which you can look up online fairly easily--DON'T. In the Kingdom of Ice reads like the most unputdownlable fiction and once you start reading you won't want the ending spoiled for you. Save the internet search for after you finish the book, when you'll be dying for just another drop of detail about these larger than life characters.
It does take some 100 pages or so to get into sea voyage itself, and while the first chapters don't have the same urgency as the rest of the book, they are completely engrossing in their own way, thanks to the way Hampton Sides jumps from colorful character to another each chapter, introducing us to the key players in the story and to the whole zeitgeist (in the U.S and abroad) which led to the expedition. You'll get to visit the 1876 Chicago World Fair and get a first taste of ketchup and banana, visit the premier map-making publishers in the world, tucked away in a remote corner of Germany, and their fateful leader, whose theory about the North Pole will leave you astounded it could have been once upon a time considered as truth. You'll also get to meet the society of Gilded-Age New York, including some of its notorious members who can certainly hold their own against the badly-behaved celebrities of today. And this is all before you even get aboard the Jeanette.
The word hero gets tossed around a lot but I don't know what else to call these men who exhibited so much resilience, valor, and superhuman endurance in the most unthinkable of circumstances. Every time you pause your reading to wonder how could have these men survived their hardships, their predicament gets even worse and your fear for their lives increases tenfold again. This happens multiple times and it makes you consider whether you are handling your own very minor problems with the same courage, team spirit, and plain reasonableness as these 30 or so men mustered in an extremely unreasonable situation.
If this could even be adapted into a 3-hour film I can imagine it would be showered with awards, because it's that sort of story, told in the best way possible. As a book, the experience is even more rewarding so make sure you read this one.
Profile Image for Fiona.
842 reviews447 followers
January 10, 2020
In July 1879 the USS Jeannette, captained by George Washington De Long, sailed from San Francisco heading for the North Pole. According to August Petermann, the foremost geographer of the time, the North Pole lay in the Open Polar Sea. A belt of ice lay around the sea and all that was required to reach the North Pole was to breach through this barrier. It would then be plain sailing. Thousands lined the hills of the bay to watch the ship leave on its voyage to claim the North Pole for the US. Three years later, between May and September 1882, the remaining survivors sailed into New York, their goal unachieved, their friends and colleagues lost.

This was the age of true Polar exploration. So little was known about the North Pole and its environment. Knowledge of the polar regions was largely gleaned from hunters, whaling ships and speculation. This expedition was funded partly by the US Treasury and partly by James Gordon Bennet Jnr, publisher of the New York Herald and wealthy playboy bachelor. [British readers: yes, this is where the expression ‘Gordon Bennett’ comes from!] The Herald was known for its sensationalist news stories. It was Bennett who had sent Stanley to look for Livingstone and that had been a resounding journalistic success. He saw this Arctic venture as another scoop and he had deep enough pockets to fund it. It was Bennett who met with Petermann in Germany to obtain maps and it was Bennett who supplied the ship that would become The Jeannette, named after his sister.

Hampton Sides has written a richly detailed and exciting account of this expedition. By the time the ship sails, we know the crew intimately and their original accounts are used to bring the journey to life. When the ship was feared lost, others were sent to look for her including, in 1881, The Corwin whose crew included the environmentalist John Muir. He had accepted the invitation more because it offered an opportunity to cross the Arctic Circle and experience the icy seas and unspoilt islands than through any desire to find De Long and his crew. He later wrote his own account of that voyage. The Corwin failed as did the others. A whaling ship spotted The Jeannette trapped in the ice pack early on its voyage and it was never seen again. After 21 months drifting with the ice pack, the crew eventually had to abandon ship and watch her sink before crossing a thousand miles of ice and icy seas to reach Siberia. Not all of them made it.

The strength and courage of these men is extraordinary. The temperatures and terrain, the privations, the fear, the starvation, and the pain of frostbite, are unimaginable. In Siberia, their constant movement kept them from freezing to death. Sounds became brittle. The fluids in their faces hardened. ... The cold had become a physical presence, silently snatching the life from the delta in the way that a fire consumes the oxygen in a room. In the coldest hours of the night, their breaths froze in the air and drifted to the ground in glittery clouds which, according to local tribesmen, made a faint tinkling melody called the ‘whisper of the stars’

By most accounts, the men continued to work in teams and respected De Long’s decisions throughout. Despite trying to survive by chewing the leather of their clothes and boot soles, it seems they didn’t resort to cannibalism at any point. The distances they covered are remarkable. Even today, with modern equipment and technology, the terrain is challenging. Hampton Sides account of this story can’t be faulted and is an easy 5 stars. What a splendid way to start my reading year!
Profile Image for LIsa Noell "Rocking the Chutzpah!.
605 reviews205 followers
January 5, 2022
The Jeanette is my absolute favorite of what I call my "arctic, armchair exploration" books. It's the most harrowing thing that I've ever read.
This book by Mr. Sides isn't my favorite of these, but it's definitely second! It's still a messed the hell up tale!
I would have been one of the crazy people to set sail or steam to see the North. The Northwest passage? Sign me up.
I have an app that I fall asleep to, and it's the sound of ice, breaking off of a wooden ship. I love it.
Would I have been so brave after my ship was crushed by ice, and I had to take to land?
I think not! But, I often surprise myself with how stubbornly brave I can be.
Eh! I hate the heat. Good thing I live in Montana!
-17 now, and the snow is beautiful!
Profile Image for Namera [The Literary Invertebrate].
1,213 reviews3,072 followers
September 21, 2022
Okay, I sat here for like five minutes just staring at the screen, trying to think of a way to distil over 400 pages of Arctic glory into a coherent review. I wasn't very successful so here are some random points:

⤅ Hampton Sides is an excellent writer. His pacing was great - it was like reading a horror novel, slowly unfolding before me.

⤅ With fulsome use of biographical detail, he brings all the major players in the De Long polar expedition to life. And what players they are! I'm stunned by the honour and courage his men showed almost to a man, right until the end - a stark contrast from the petty thefts and violence that haunted some other expeditions, like Greely's. Melville, Ambler, and of course De Long himself loom larger than life throughout the book.

⤅ I felt like I was IN the Arctic - or, as they poetically called it, the High North. England might be gripped by high summer, but in my head I was thousands of miles away, freezing and starving and drowning.

A highly recommended read.

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Profile Image for Jim.
194 reviews37 followers
November 18, 2022
Note: Do not read anything about this book before you actually read the book. Going in cold made it so interesting.

Such a great book. Everybody kept telling me how good it was but I’ve left it sitting on the shelf because I really didn’t see the appeal of reading a 400-page book about tragedy.

Fortunately, this book is not about tragedy. It’s about exploration. And that’s why you shouldn’t read anything about the story ahead of time. If you go in without any information then you get to make the journey with them, seeing everything from their perspective. Sides only gives you information when you have to have it so that you are right inside the atmosphere of the time.

Sides does a great job with this book. He had a lot of information to work with and puts it all together brilliantly. He knows just when to move you from place to place but also exactly how to move you in a way that gives you the most bang for the buck.
Profile Image for Veeral.
366 reviews133 followers
August 1, 2015

The first half of the 1800's was mostly dominated by the Royal Navy as far as the Arctic was concerned. The desire for conquering something uncharted, almost unobtainable, did play a part in that. But the main – and somewhat disenchanting – reason for Britain’s Arctic excursions was purely financial. The English navy, having defeated Napoleon, had nothing major left to do. Most of the seamen were laid off and the officers were working at half pay, so any chances of promotions were really out of the question. Moral was low, and the more ambitious men were getting impatient.

The English Navy saw its salvation in solving the “Arctic problem”, as it came to be later known. In those times, reaching the North Pole (and also discovering the North West Passage) seemed as elusive as colonization of Mars might seem to us today. Theoretically not impossible, but not entirely possible if looked at in a practical way. So, a successful Arctic exploration could bring instant fame, promotion, and not to mention a book deal or two, which really attracted the men of otherwise temporarily stagnant English navy.

Nobody knew what exactly lay at the pole or if there existed a trade route (the North West passage) through the Arctic connecting Asia and Europe. There was even a theory that the North Pole was not covered in ice but there existed a tropical ocean, which the proponents of the theory had dubbed as “Open Polar Sea”, in which they further conjectured that might be teeming with marine life and may even be host to a long lost civilization.

One ardent supporter of the “Open Polar Sea” theory was a prominent German geographer and mapmaker August Petermann, whose maps were renowned for their accuracy. Petermann also thought that Wrangel Land (situated above the north eastern coast of Siberia) was an extended part of Greenland (to visualize: think as if Greenland was a lying Pinocchio and its nose extended right up to the north eastern coast of Russia). Petermann was often scoffed at by many explorers and Arctic experts for his Wrangel Land theories, so he wanted to prove them wrong. But being strictly an armchair explorer and Arctic “expert”, he needed someone, a real explorer, to do that for him.

But Petermann never got along with the English, so when he visited the United States at its Centennial Exposition (World Fair) in 1876 where he saw the inventions of geniuses like Graham Bell and Thomas Edison among others, he was convinced that finally the United States was capable of launching a major Arctic expedition.

But as I said earlier, he needed a proven explorer. Enter George Washington De Long. De Long was involved in the search of the United States’ disastrous Polaris expedition which made him a hero back in the United States, thanks to the coverage given by a reporter of the New York Herald who had accompanied De Long on his search for the men of Polaris Expedition.

The New York Herald was owned by an eccentric multimillionaire, James Gordon Bennett Jr. who was a firm believer of sensational journalism (I am sure the term did not exist back then). And Bennett was really weird. Think Howard Hughes weird. No, he didn’t piss in jars, in case you were wondering. Because why waste jars when you can expose yourself in front of guests in your fiancée’s party and urinate perfectly in her drawing room?

Yes, he really was strange and Hampton Sides has done a really good job of depicting all his eccentricities in the book. But it was Bennett who sent Stanley in Africa to search for Livingstone. It didn’t really matter that Livingstone didn’t need to be found in the first place, Bennett was just looking for the scoop of the decade. The coverage of Stanley’s encounter with Livingstone made both Stanley and New York Herald a household name. So, Bennett eagerly agreed to fund De Long’s whole Arctic voyage to recreate the same sensationalism he had achieved by sending Stanley to find Livingstone.

George De Long acquired a proven ship in Britain (HMS Pandora) which Bennett renamed Jeannette (for his sister). De Long and his wife, Emma, then crossed the Atlantic on the Jeannette to San Francisco, where Jeannette was refitted ably with the guidance of US Navy engineers. Emma, De Long’s wife, unlike other wives of the explorers of the era, took active interest in planning of the voyage. She became so much adept in her knowledge of the Arctic that at one time, she even thought of accompanying her husband on the voyage.

De Long prepared meticulously for the voyage. So much so that he even took two of Graham Bell’s telephones and Edison’s lighting devices (arc lamps) with him.

The proposition for USS Jeannette was to sail through the Bering Strait. One (then) recently published article suggested that a powerful warm ocean current (like Gulf Stream which originates from the Bay of Mexico) called Kuro Siwo flowed from Japan towards the north, which flowed under the “ice ring” that surrounded the “Open Polar Sea”. So, it might be possible to push through the ice by following the Kuro Siwo where the ice pack might not be as formidable as it was in other places on the ring.

Thus, based on these erroneous assumptions, De Long sailed for the “Open Polar Sea”.

I am not going to discuss the actual voyage of USS Jeannette here as Hampton Sides has done it quite wonderfully in the book. Hampton Sides has stuck to a more or less chronological timeline while writing about the events which, I think, makes this book highly readable. So if you don’t know anything about the voyage of USS Jeannette (I didn’t), and if you are planning to read this book, my advise would be to refrain from searching anything about it on the internet.

But even without knowing anything beforehand about the polar voyage of USS Jeannette, it's not hard to guess that De Long didn’t find the “Open Polar Sea” (spoiler: It doesn’t exist). But he was able to prove “experts” like Petermann wrong. The Wrangel Land was only an island, not a part of Greenland. He also found that Petermann’s maps were nowhere near accurate. He noted ruefully that the “Open Polar Sea” theory should be put to rest forever. He also discovered some new islands — Jeannette, Henrietta, and Bennett — which in Russia, are now known as Ostrova De Long. So in a way, De Long didn’t really go on a fool’s errand after all.

George Washington De Long was a competent leader. He had a good ship, a capable crew (33 in all, including De Long), and Bennett had spared no expense to provision the ship. If only the theories were true, there is no doubt that he would have succeeded in discovering the “Open Polar Sea”. Maybe he was born a couple of hundred years too early. Global Warming might yet melt all the ice in the Arctic (2050’s-60’s, according to modern science) and in fact make it possible to reach the North Pole in a ship after all (though I think finding a lost civilization there might take a little bit longer than that).
Profile Image for Zora.
1,276 reviews52 followers
February 6, 2015
2.5 stars. A disappointment. The author almost lost me in the first 200 pages of background information. But I came here and read tepid reviews and was assured it got going 1/3 of the way in, so I skipped ahead to that point and had a better reading experience.

Let me assure you, the author's style is pleasant, and his research is exhaustive. If you're interested in any of his other topics, I suspect you'd enjoy those books. But what is this deal with recent NF books? They include every extraneous detail the author happened upon in his researches into this and that cul-de-sac, and all that has nothing at all to do with the central tale. I don't care that the funder of the expedition had a failed engagement or a pistol duel where everyone missed. In fact, everything about the funding could have been reduced to one paragraph and this would have been a better book for it. I ask you what exactly the duel has to do with a polar adventure! I've complained before about the awful editing of grammar in YA books and wondered if NY editors simply quit doing their jobs about the turn of the century. Here, either Sides or his copy editor (I suspect the former) knows what constitutes a sentence, but someone should have drawn a thick blue line through 175 manuscript pages.

The narrative of the polar survival is pretty good. There are people to root for (De Long, his wife, the doctor, Melville the engineer) and people you're supposed to hate. Sides turns the surviving logs and diaries into a believable story. I thought he missed some opportunities during the long walk to Siberia. He says people have frostbite and chillblains and fell into the thirty-degree water and that they were exhausted...but I never really felt it. The narration is distant, without ever taking us into the body of any sufferer/marcher to feel what that cold was or to smell the rotting flesh or to taste moccasin soup.

Also, the publisher keeps the ebook price insanely inflated, despite that ebooks have no printing or distribution costs. I got my version from the library. If I added that fact in, I'd rate it two stars, but I shan't blame the author for his publisher's poor business practices.
Profile Image for Trish.
1,352 reviews2,438 followers
September 7, 2014
To tell the truth, polar exploring never held much fascination for me. The only thing that makes me think it might be magical is that so many explorers have mentioned the quality of the light. But the idea that one would risk one’s life and spend more than two years to “get through the ice pack” really seems like a dumb idea to me.

Given that, I probably was not the ideal reader for this book, but I took on this story because I thought maybe all would become clear. Sides tries to make it sound exciting, but he spends a lot of time going over the lives of the financial backers (James Gordon Bennett Jr., owner of The New York Herald), and detailing the previous failed attempts to reach the North Pole. By the time the men leave San Francisco bay July 8, 1879, it already feels too late.

The U.S.S. Jeannette was first burdened with the task of trying to locate Adolf Nordenskiold's Scandinavian expedition to find a "Northeast Passage" which was seriously past its return date. The detour to Siberia meant the Jeannette's crew was late in getting off on the real purpose of their journey and indeed, once through the Bering Strait, they became stuck in pack ice. “Wintering in the pack may be a thrilling thing to read about,” DeLong wrote. Well, not so much, really.

Anyway, for two years these folks tried to free themselves and their ship from the relentless cold and shifting ice. The ice pack would move them northwest, only to circle back later. Eventually all choice was taken from them when their ship was crushed by the enormous forces of the ice. It is a frustrating story of hardship and heartbreak, though some of the men made it out alive to tell the tale and pass on locations of the ship’s log, which had to be abandoned.

What they learned was practically all negative: the maps and theories of the polar regions being floated at the time, notably those of the German cartographer August Petermann, were dead wrong. But they did discover a couple of islands (Jeannette, Henrietta, and Bennett seen below) and they learned that arctic ice is constantly in motion. In 1884, some years after Jeannette was wrecked in 1881, some of Jeannette’s wreckage (one of DeLong’s sealskin boots), washed up in Greenland, proving the ice movement absolutely.

Jeannette Island
Henrietta Island

Bennett Island
Sketches of Islands Discovered by U.S.S. Jeannette

Sides does a remarkable job of research, and for those interested in polar exploration, this book must be a wondrous cache of riches. Sides collected the mass of information in a complete and rounded way, stretching long before and long after the two-and-a half years of the expedition. I, however, came away wondering at the choices of some folks. They prepared the best way they could at the time, and did amazingly well finding folks they thought might be able to take the isolation and challenges they were to face. I note that the innovative Mr.-Fixit-Melville was the man who ended up writing the stories of the others who died. He had both heart and brains and survived to tell the tale. There were other exceptional men among their number, Neidermann among them, who could take any amount of cold and physical toil. Tales of their exploits still thrill us. But the cost? These are the trade-offs men make.
Profile Image for Nicole R.
986 reviews
January 19, 2016
From the moment I saw the description of this book I knew I was going to love it. Tales of survival intrigue me and tales of survival in the polar reaches of our planet are simply mind-blowing.

I take for granted all of the science we know about our planet and how relatively safe it is to travel to its far reaches. But it wasn't too long ago when that wasn't the case. In the 1870's, no human had been to the North Pole, few explorers had even forayed into the Arctic Circle, and hypotheses ran wild as to what man would eventually find at the top of the world.

The prevailing hypothesis was that there was an Open Polar Ocean teeming with life that could easily be explored if the ring of pack ice that surrounded it could be penetrated. Explorers from all countries dashed north along the coasts of Greenland only to turn back tired, injured, and dejected by the frigid climes...if they survived at all. Then, one man, George De Long, decided to take a different approach.

Backed by New York Herald mogul, Bennett, and informed by map extraordinaire, Petermann, De Long assembles a top-notch (and U.S. Navy approved) crew to sail from San Francisco, through the Bering Strait, and on to the North Pole in the USS Jeannette. The expedition is riddled with slight mis-timings and unforeseen events from the beginning, events that were completely unpredictable because the prevailing scientific through of the Arctic was completely false at the time. These events add up to a harrowing three years enduring gridlock in the ice, traversing the polar sea, and trudging through Siberia.

There are no words to describe what these men went through. I just cannot comprehend the mental and emotional trials to put one foot in front of the other, to get through one more day. Their story is amazing and I had never even heard of it before Mr. Sides brought it to life in vivid detail and thrilling prose. While the story of the Jeannette is enough to keep you riveted, Sides works in compelling personal stories, brief historical sidebars, and absolutely fascinating scientific history on the theory of oceanic currents and the Arctic.

I read Endurance last year and was struck that the story of the USS Jeannette is even more harrowing, more unbelievable, and more challenging than that of the iconic Shackleton. I highly recommend this book!
Profile Image for Hannah.
797 reviews
November 20, 2014
What an absolute privilege it is to have won this book in a Goodreads First Reads giveaway. Not only do I love polar non-fiction, but now have the giddy anticipation of locating and reading everything writer Hampton Sides has ever written!

Mankind's desire to explore his environment has produced some amazing and courageous individuals. The account of the voyage of the USS Jeannette and her crew to locate and reach the North Pole during 1879-1882 is a riveting read from start to finish. Sides writing is brilliant and fast moving. His research is meticulous but never dry. It is one of those books that once you pick up it's hard to put down (you know, for food and sleep and laundry....)

This is probably the best non-fiction polar book I've read to date dealing with the North Pole, and is a worthy book-end with Caroline Alexander's The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition (another amazing survivalist adventure, but from the South Pole).

Highly, highly recommended.

Profile Image for Joyce.
1,708 reviews32 followers
December 29, 2018
5 stars

James Gordon Bennett is newspaper owner who specializes in the outrageous and not altogether true stories.

Captain George Washington DeLong made his name for a daring attempt made to reach survivors of a ship that was destroyed by ice in the Arctic when he was still a Lieutenant in the US Navy. The Arctic got into his blood, something that surprised him, and he spent several years studying and plotting to get back there – but as the captain of his own expedition this time.

Bennett becomes very interested in the Arctic and agrees to fund DeLong’s expedition to the North Pole. They consult the latest maps and scientific data. They meet with the eminent scientists of the day and gather data that is suspect by today’s standards. (From our point of view we can see that some of the ideas put forth at the time were outrageous at best and some of them were downright dangerous. )

Before they set sail on July 8, 1879, DeLong is ordered by his superiors at the US Navy to check on a fellow explorer at Bennett’s behest. DeLong is furious for he knows the other explorer is not yet overdue and most likely is fine. But he must follow orders, so he takes the time to look for the other man’s party. He misses him by a mere week, but of course doesn’t know it. He finally gets the work from some native Alaskans that they have seen him and he had sailed away already. DeLong has lost some time and fears the worst.

As they head north through the Bering Strait, they find their first trouble. DeLong and the rest of the crew (for the most part), take their difficulties in their stride. The thirty-two men seem to get along fine aside from some petty jealousies and rivalries.

The Jeanette was to spend several months trapped in the ice pack. The men kept up their spirits though, and there was some game – polar bears, seals and such – that came close enough to the ship that the crew was served occasional fresh meat. An island was spotted that caused much excitement. Some of the crew came down with lead poisoning. (How they kept up their spirits in all this is beyond me. It was a sure testament to the human drive to thrive.)

With the breaking up and sinking of the Jeannette, all thirty-three men took to the ice along with their dogs. DeLong had been anticipating it for some time, so they had sufficient time to offload the most important items for the long trek ahead of them.

What follows is a story filled with horror, hardship and severe privation. My heart goes out to the brave men who undertook this expedition knowing very well what might lay in store for them.

This book is excellently written. Mr. Sides gives a detailed explanation of the search for and refurbishing of the Pandora, soon to become the Jeannette. He fully describes and illustrates all of the main characters, Delong, Bennett, Petermann and several men of the crew and officers. His research must have been exhaustive. Very well done and I recommend this book to anyone interested in arctic exploration, adventure or just for a very good read.
Profile Image for Jim.
575 reviews88 followers
February 11, 2017
This was a fascinating and well researched story of the USS Jeannette and the tragedy that befell her and her crew. In the late nineteenth century people were obsessed with one of the last unmapped areas of the planet, the North Pole. Theories abounded but no one knew what existed beyond the ice that rimmed the northern oceans. Whoever could plant his flag at the pole would attain fame and glory.

James Gordon Bennett, the wealthy owner of The New York Herald, had recently captured the world's attention by dispatching Stanley to Africa to find Dr. Livingstone. Now he wanted to recreate that sensation by funding an expedition to the North Pole. As its captain a young officer named George Washington DeLong, who had gained fame for a rescue operation off the coast of Greenland, was chosen. On July 8, 1879, the USS Jeannette set sail from San Francisco with DeLong and a crew of 32 men heading deep into the uncharted Arctic waters.

The Jeannette, alone in uncharted seas, was soon trapped in ice. For almost two years the ship remain trapped in the ice and then the hull was breached and the crew was forced to abandon ship and watch helplessly as she sank. The men were now marooned a thousand miles north of Siberia and had no choice but to begin the long march across a frozen hell in one of the remotest corners of the planet. They had to battle storms, snow blindness, and everything nature at it's worse could throw at them. They battled madness, frost bite, disease and starvation with the barest of supplies. This is a tale of determination and heroism. The men had to depend on themselves for survival. This was a different age. There was no radio. No way to communicate with the outside world. In alternating chapters there are letters written by DeLong's wife, Emma, to her husband which only re-enforce the tragedy. She writes letter after letter not knowing if, but hoping, they will find their way to her husband. She remains confident in his ability and looking forward to the day when they will be together again. Not knowing but still believing.
Profile Image for Chris Steeden.
438 reviews
September 14, 2020
The South Pole seemed unobtainable to those explorers and adventurers in the northern hemisphere in the 1870s. They had their eye on the North Pole instead. They had no idea what they would find up there. New colonies or species? How about minerals that could be seized? Ultimately, they wanted to get to a place where no human had been before.

Americans were coming out the other side of the Civil War. What better way to unite a divided country than an ambitious expedition of discovery? They had bought Alaska in 1867 pushing the country even further north. There was a cautionary tale though that they needed to take heed of. That of the ‘Polaris’ that got into immense trouble in the Arctic. The wonderfully named author, Hampton Sides, provides the details of that disastrous voyage before the polar expedition undertaken by the USS Jeannette.

You certainly do not think of the US as a great seaworthy nation during the Victorian times and you’d be right to think that, ‘Although the U.S. Navy was slowly making advancements, many European nations viewed the tiny, anti-quated American fleet as a joke. According to naval historian Peter Karsten, it was “a third-rate assemblage” of “old tubs” in “various states of disrepair . . . the laughingstock of the world.”’ They were, though, coming to the fore with engineering inventions to the chagrin of some Europeans. An eminent German professor and the most famous geographer of the time, August Petermann, was convinced that the age of discovery should now include the US. He felt that the US was best placed for Arctic discovery.

Sides introduces us to the main characters and what characters they are. The stories of them are wonderfully told. Then he turns to the preparation and the actual expedition. You feel you know the characters and you do urge them on after they hit obstacle after obstacle, but you know their fate from the start. This is really great storytelling. I was all in to this book.

I’ll leave the last words to the man who led the ill-fated trip on the USS Jeannette, George De Long. The ship was stuck in ice at the time: “Wintering in the pack may be a thrilling thing to read about alongside a warm fire, but the actual thing is sufficient to make any man prematurely old. A crisis may occur at any moment, and we can do nothing but be thankful in the morning that it has not come during the night, and at night that it has not come since the morning. Living over a powder-mill waiting for an explosion would be a similar mode of existence.” I’ll take the warm fire option.
Profile Image for Libby.
594 reviews156 followers
February 23, 2016
Hampton Sides brings to the reader an astounding story with a truly heroic cast of characters in "In the kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeanette." Sides draws the reader into an epic adventure fraught with suspense and danger. I was so overtaken by this book that I was constantly going to google and researching more about the content as I went on this reading journey. Like August Petermann, the famous cartographer that Sides so eloquently writes about, I was the armchair traveler. And happy to travel from my armchair, I am, especially after reading of the hardships of these men. George DeLong is the captivating commander of the USS Jeanette. Who could not help but root for this idealistic yet very pragmatic commander? The camaraderie that develops between the men, and those situations that crop up where the men question their commander are also fascinating. So telling when men take on the mantle of leadership. To be able to lead and be unquestioned; I guess that would be a fiction tale. But Sides has taken on the flesh and blood of non-fiction and he backs up his adventure with the journals of DeLong, and Dr. Ambler, and others of the men, as well as the letters of DeLong's wife, Emma. The geography of the North Pole at this time, in the late 1870's, was at best, a pseudoscience, but unrecognized as such. The best minds thought the explorers would break through a ring of ice to enter a warm world, where perhaps a lost race of people existed. The men discovered no warmth in the Arctic Circle and after the USS Jeanette was trapped in the ice for almost two years, it was released, only to undergo another set of harrowing adventures. Unimaginable. What remarkable men these were! I am glad to have known them through Mr. Sides' writing and to have traveled with them from my armchair.
Profile Image for Kasia.
289 reviews48 followers
June 24, 2015
I wanted to read this book since it was published in May. After reading Dead Wake and The Boys in the Boat I was ready for another true story of heroism and dedication in the face of tragic circumstances. Well, I got more than I've bargain for. This book shook me to the core. I have never before experienced such a raw physical response to written words. During this read I had goosebumps on my arms, felt pin-like pricks on my head, was holding my breath for pages at the time, and had to remained myself to take a breath before I turned blue... I also cried. Second time in my life I cried over the book. (Here I will spear you additional descriptions of how I neglected my kids, canceled appointments, and hid from friends just to finish this book).
In the Kingdom of Ice details the story of Captain George DeLing and his crew during their failed attempt to reach North Pole while sailing through Bering Strait, sudden lost of their ship and their subsequent 1000 mile journey over the ice to Siberia. Words are not enough to convey the amount human suffering, strength of the spirit and depths of friendship forged during this journey.
The story of USS Jeannette is largely forgotten. I personally never heard about it before reading this book, but I'm so glad Hampton Sides decided to research and write this book. Now you - find this book and read it. And maybe next time when you are forced to take a cold shower you will not complain but think about 33 man who walked weeks in the slush of ice and arctic waters, and ate sole of their shoes for dinner.
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