Ice Blink: The Tragic Fate of Sir John Franklin's Lost Polar Expedition

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9780471377900: Ice Blink: The Tragic Fate of Sir John Franklin's Lost Polar Expedition

"Absorbing.artfully narrat[es] a possible course of events in the expedition's demise, based on the one official note and bits of debris (including evidence of cannibalism) found by searchers sent to look for Franklin in the 1850s. Adventure readers will flock to this fine regaling of the enduring mystery surrounding the best-known disaster in Arctic exploration."--Booklist

"A great Victorian adventure story rediscovered and re-presented for a more enquiring time."--The Scotsman

"A vivid, sometimes harrowing chronicle of miscalculation and overweening Victorian pride in untried technology.a work of great compassion."--The Australian

It has been called the greatest disaster in the history of polar exploration. Led by Arctic explorer Sir John Franklin, two state-of-the-art ships and 128 hand-picked men----the best and the brightest of the British empire----sailed from Greenland on July 12, 1845 in search of the elusive Northwest Passage. Fourteen days later, they were spotted for the last time by two whalers in Baffin Bay. What happened to these ships----and to the 129 men on board----has remained one of the most enduring mysteries in the annals of exploration. Drawing upon original research, Scott Cookman provides an unforgettable account of the ill-fated Franklin expedition, vividly reconstructing the lives of those touched by the voyage and its disaster. But, more importantly, he suggests a human culprit and presents a terrifying new explanation for what triggered the deaths of Franklin and all 128 of his men. This is a remarkable and shocking historical account of true-life suspense and intrigue.

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Review:

By the mid-19th century, after decades of polar exploration, the fabled Northwest Passage seemed within reach. In 1845 the British Admiralty assembled the largest expedition yet, refitting two ships with steam engines and placing the seasoned if somewhat lackluster Sir John Franklin in command of the 128-man expedition. After sailing into Baffin Bay, they were never heard from again.

Drawing on early accounts from relief expeditions as well as recent archeological evidence, Scott Cookman reconstructs a chronicle of the expedition in Ice Blink. Cookman, a journalist with articles in Field & Stream and other magazines, excels when firmly grounded in the harrowing reality of 19th-century Arctic exploration. When he speculates about what happened to the Franklin expedition, however, he is on less solid ground and his writing suffers.

Particularly overwrought is the promised "frightening new explanation" for the expedition's demise. Cookman suggests that it was caused by the "grotesque handiwork" of an "evil" man, Stephan Goldner, who had supplied its canned foods. This is hardly new. As early as 1852, investigators determined that the expedition's canned goods were probably inferior and canceled provisioning contracts with Goldner. How a hundred men survived for nearly three years despite lead poisoning and botulism remains a mystery. In the end, as Cookman himself acknowledges, the expedition was ultimately doomed by its reliance on untested technology such as the steam engine, armor plating, and canned provisions. These criticisms aside, Ice Blink is an interesting narrative of this enduring symbol of polar exploration and disaster. --Pete Holloran

From the Inside Flap:

The Tragic Fate of Sir John Franklin’s Lost Polar Expedition

What turned the greatest Arctic expedition of the nineteenth century into the worst Arctic tragedy in history? Ice Blink (the name sailors gave the haunting mirages formed by reflections off pack ice) probes one of the most enduring mysteries in the annals of exploration–the baffling disappearance of the largest, best-equipped expedition of its day. Led by veteran Arctic explorer Sir John Franklin, two ships and 129 handpicked officers and men sailed from Greenland on July 12, 1845, seeking a navigable shortcut to link the Atlantic and Pacific. It was the most technologically advanced mission of the nineteenth century–the Apollo program of its day. The ships were revolutionary: iron-plated, locomotive-powered, and steam-heated. They were equipped with desalinators, canned food–a recent innovation–the world’s first cameras, and other equally sophisticated gear. On July 26, Franklin’s ships were spotted by two whaling ships in Baffin Bay. They were never seen again.

Over the next fourteen years, more than fifty expeditions scoured the Arctic in search of Franklin and his men. In 1859, on desolate King William Island in the heart of the Arctic archipelago, searchers found evidence of catastrophe: a mountain of abandoned equipment, two skeletons, and a chilling message. Signed by the expedition’s second-in-command, it reported that Franklin’s ships, trapped in monstrous ice for nearly two years, had been deserted in April 1848. A total of twenty-four officers and men, including Franklin, were already dead, virtually all of them in the ten months before the vessels were abandoned. The 105 survivors had embarked on a desperate 900-mile march inland in an attempt to reach safety. Maddeningly, the message gave no clue as to what had caused the deaths and prompted the expedition to desert its still-sound ships and take its chances on the ice. In the years that followed, the skeletal remains of twenty or more Franklin crewmen were found scattered along their line of march, with gruesome evidence that they had resorted to wholesale cannibalism in order to survive. The rest of the party had vanished in the Arctic.

Whatever–or, more intriguingly, who-ever–was responsible for the Franklin tragedy will always be open to debate. In Ice Blink, Scott Cookman provides an unforgettable account of the ill-fated expedition, vividly reconstructing the lives and events of a voyage that began with the certainty of success and led instead into oblivion. Drawing upon original research, he also suggests a human culprit and reveals a terrifying new explanation for what triggered the expedition’s doom.

Ice Blink is a gripping adventure tale of an "infallible" voyage that failed monumetally, illustrating how mankind’s technology is mocked by Nature’s menace–and showing the best and worst in men.

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