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Barrow's Boys

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  503 ratings  ·  44 reviews
A mix of tragedy and farce, this tale tells the story of John Barrow, Second Secretary to the Admiralty. Between 1816 and 1845 his teams of naval officers partook in an ambitious programme of exploration, scouring the world's undiscovered territories, unprepared for the conditions they would face.
Unknown Binding, 400 pages
Published January 1st 1998 by Granta Books (Uk)
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4.11  · 
Rating details
 ·  503 ratings  ·  44 reviews

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Oct 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: avventura, viaggi, storia
Le donne, i cavallier, l'arme, gli amori,
le cortesie, l'audaci imprese
dei sudditi di Sua Maestà ai primi del 1800, nell'artico alla ricerca del passaggio a nord ovest e in Africa alla ricerca della foce del Niger.
Interessante, brillante, spesso divertente, anche nei momenti in cui racconta di naufragi, morti di fame, di dissenteria, congelati; di ammiragli testoni e presuntuosi, di ammiragliato tentennante, equipaggiamenti ridicoli, fatiche erculee, diari scomparsi, nativi sbalorditi, capitani
Anfri Bogart
Mar 10, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Le esplorazioni inglesi nella prima metà dell'800 erano finanziate dall'Ammiragliato Britannico, di cui John Barrow fu il secondo segretario ed essenzialmente prendeva le decisioni operative. Sotto la sua egida vennero quindi organizzate le prime spedizioni al Polo Nord per la ricerca del passaggio a Nord-Ovest, in Africa per la ricerca dello sbocco in mare del Niger, in Australia e al Polo Sud.
Anche se Fleming usa un tono abbastanza scanzonato (un certo ironico distacco è d'altra parte tipicame
'Aussie Rick'
Aug 26, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, naval

This is a fascinating and enjoyable account of a number of brave men, sent to the furthermost points of the world to fill in the blank spots on the British Navy's globe. John Barrow, Second Secretary to the Admiralty sent a number of expeditions to find the source of the Niger River, to locate and traverse the North-West Passage, to locate Magnetic North, to find out what was actually at the Antarctic.

There are some great adventure stories here, of brave men, blundering fools and gentle heroes.
Megan Baxter
Barrow's Boys. It's nonfiction. It's about explorers funded by the Royal Navy (mostly under the urging of Barrow), including the most famously ill-fated Franklin Expedition. Fleming does a really excellent job of writing about these often disastrous trips engagingly, with some snark and well-deserved English sarcasm directly from some of the correspondents involved.

Note: The rest of this review has been withdrawn due to the changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You can read why I came to
Jennifer (JC-S)
May 16, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: librarybooks
This is a fascinating story of an ambitious program of exploration launched by John Barrow, Second Secretary to the Admiralty in 1816.
Between 1816 and 1845 ‘Barrow’s Boys’ worked – sometimes with each other and sometimes against each other – to fill in some of the blank spaces around the globe. Some of the questions they set out to answer:
What was at the North Pole?
Was there a North-West Passage?
Where did the Niger go, and what was at the heart of Africa?
Did Antarctica exist?
To a large extent,
Robert Melnyk
Oct 19, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating book about exploration during the 1800s, with the primary emphasis on the expeditions that went in search of the Northwest Passage. There are also stories about the search for where the Niger River flowed to in Africa, as well as explorations of Antarctica. The extremes that these people enduring during their quest to find the Northwest Passage is mind boggling. They often spent 2, 3, or more years ice-bound aboard their ships waiting for the ice to break up enough for them to contin ...more
Clara Mazzi
Jul 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Uno dei libri più belli che io abbia mai letto. Scritto mirabilmente - con ironia ma anche con grande affetto, rispetto per il proprio paese e la sua storia - Fergus Fleming (nipote di Ian Fleming, creatore di James Bond) raccoglie immagini, sentimenti, svolgersi di fatti, che amalgama meravigliosamente in un saggio che potrebbe quasi diventare un romanzo – ma non lo diventa mai. Le sue pagine ci portano ad apprendere fatti di storia che giustamente non ha senso imparare a scuola ma che è intere ...more
Simon Jones
Oct 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was an absolutely ripsnorting humdinger of a read. Barrow's Boys covers a period from the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars to the height of the Victorian Age when the 2nd secretary of the Admiralty was one John Barrow. He was a man with a mission to fill in the blanks on the map and dispatched men of pluck to the Arctic and the Sahara in an attempt to ensure that it was Britain that led the way in discovery. The majority of the book is taken up with the expeditions sent in search of the nor ...more
Bill Bradburn
May 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: history buffs
Barrow’s Boys is a must read for those history buffs who first of all are interested in peace time British Naval history during the first half of the 19th century. The book reads like a novel as it explores the Admiralty and the decisions made to map and discover the Northwest Passage, Nile, Niger and thrown in for good measure the Antarctic.

The book is extremely well researched and author Fleming makes excellent work of the language of the day to introduce you to the character, ambitions and th
Ian Bates
Nov 01, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A really good read, well written and page turning.

Marred for me by a couple of glaring errors of fact. Barrow was not, as claimed, Lord Macartney's Chinese interpreter. That role fell to Macartney's pageboy, Thomas Staunton, who learnt Chinese from two Chinese Monks on board HMS Lion on the outward journey and even at the end of the mission was still 'the only member of the party who could speak and write Chinese'. Barrow was Macartney's comptroller.

The really big omission for me was no mention
Ronald Kelland
Jan 21, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was expecting this book to be a biography of John Barrow. It is not. While it does include several aspects of Barrow's life, ambitions, failure and accomplishments, it is also a book about many of the Polar and African expeditions that Barrow brought about. The boom is a simple and fascinating look at the role of the Royal Navy in these explorations and the men, some accomplished and able, others unstable and incompetent, that carried them out. I am a lover if Arctic exploration literature, so ...more
Dave Clarke
Sep 10, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A remarkable story that weaves the tales of the explorations of a disparate group of naval men together, with the thread of John Barrow, secretary to the Admiralty for 40 years form 1804, binding them all together. Well written, this engaging book looks back at those early explorations, and is unflinching in his description of mismanagement and disasters, whilst celebrating the stoicism of (most of) its central players.
Charles Bookman
Mar 12, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Who isn’t wowed by those plucky 19th century British explorers who opened Africa, charted the Antarctic and searched for the Northwest Passage? The entire enterprise, it turns out, was the life work of one man, John Barrow, Second Secretary of the Admiralty. The stories are legion, and they are all here. Read more at
Jul 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Amazing information about the times and reasons behind some of the more far fetched explorations.
Jen Womack
Oct 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you like historical non-fiction with a witty twist, you'll love this.
May 30, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting narrative history of the effects of one man's obsessions. (The tales of the Arctic explorations became a little tedious after the third expedition.)
Jay Kennedy
Jul 29, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I think the most intriguing part of this book is descriptive prose. I could see the ice, the channels, the barren wasteland. It's was right in front of me. A very adventurous read.
Liam Guilar
Dec 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this when it was first published. It still reads well over ten years later. Although the search for the North West Passage, which became the search for Franklin lost looking for the North West Passage, dominates the book, Barrow's obsession with the Niger gives Fleming the opportunity to alternate narratives of ships stuck in Ice with narratives of men stuck or dying in Africa.

The men in question ranged from the lunatic (Liang) to the efficiently professional (Parry, the younger Ross) an
This book is AMAZING. If you are into nineteenth-century exploring, you ought to read it. John Barrow wasn't necessarily successful at picking missions for his men, but my god, did he spur a great deal of exploration. Everything he set in motion is carefully detailed throughout, from Arctic expeditions to trying to find the end of the Niger (Mungo Park!) to That One Time People Tried to Colonize Antarctica Before Realizing It Was Kind of Worthless.

One thing I loved about this book is the gentle
Mark Wiliamson
Apr 03, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is the history of the stream of explorers Sir John Barrow sent off round the world in the early to mid 1800's.

I grew up not far from John Barrows birth place and the monument to him on Hoad Hill in Ulverston ( was (and still is since I live near Ulverston again at the moment) a regular sight and it was fascinating to know why he was such an important character.

This book chronicles Barrows misguided, misinformed and frequently badly planned att
Having read books on other arctic explorers I was a little worried that this would just be another retelling of the same story but the author was able to add some new insights and a better understanding of the men in the Admiralty. The men that made the decisions as to who would be in charge of these expeditions and what their objectives and the extenuating circumstances of these trips would be was a nice backdrop to the expeditions themselves. The character examinations and how the various expl ...more
Nov 14, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Once more into the breach - another book about Victorian English explorers. What to do with all the idle officers now that peace has been attained? Why not send them out to explore the unknown regions of the world? It is hard in this day and age to realize that just a century and a half ago there was still much mystery out in the great wide world. Most of these men were going into places very few people had ever seen, not knowing what to expect. One commander was sent to look for a Northwest pa ...more
May 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've read a lot of historical works in my time, and I can say without even a smidgeon of hyperbole that this is amongst the finest non-fiction tomes of the last few decades. This is a tale of a government clerk who never left England, yet planned, financed, and launched some of the most audacious and thrilling exploratory missions of the nineteenth century. From Franklin's search for the North West Passage, to Mungo Park's journey up the Niger, and missions such as those of Ross to find the fabl ...more
Pretty much the entire history of 19th century British arctic exploration. John Barrow was the man behind it all, although he himself never went and most of his theories were completely wrong; the existence of the northwest passage, of course, but also the idea of polar sea. All of his wrong ideas led to death and suffering and expense of many. On the other hand, these expeditions did open up vast areas. What astounds me about arctic exploration is the physical and mental suffering these men wen ...more
Jan 27, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, exploration
Barrow's Boys tells the story of dozens of British Naval Expeditions throughout the first half of the 19th century to discover the Northwest Passage, Timbuctoo, the source of the Niger, the South Pole, etc... It is simply amazing what these men went through, being stuck on a boat, frozen in the Arctic ice for years on end, fighting starvation and diseas in Africa, just unimanginable hardships in the name of discovery.

Fleming is a good writer and the subject is a great one if you have an interes
Mar 18, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Back in the day when there were large areas of the world marked with blanks on the map, John Barrow of the British Admiralty launched a number of expeditions to put the British presence into those wastes. This is a fascinating story of Boys Own expeditions that met with triumph and disaster. The author tells the story quite brilliantly, illustrating the exploits of these explorers with humanity as well as excitement.
C.J. Ruby
Very good. One of the best books on the Royal Navy's exploration during the early to mid 19th century. Which I've now read twice. Seemed oddly familiar after the second chapter (I must have read this shortly after it came out). This is one reason I joined Goodreads in order to catalog my reading. Anyway it was an enjoyable reread.
Aug 25, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This book is an awesome read. There are three exploration stories that run at the same time. This would be a great premise for a reality show, eating lichen off the pot belly stove for over a year on an ice stranded frigate.
Jan 29, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great book, John Barrow's influence on travel and exploration between 1810 and 1850 in Africa and the Arctic regions is unparralled, and this is a great account of the expeditions during his time; Parry, Ross, Franklin etc.
Apr 17, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting stories about british exploration in the early to mid 1800s. While the stories are about incredible survival (though not in every case), the book gets rather repetitious and the tales of adventure seem to be extremely similar to each other. I actually didn't finish this one...
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