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The Arctic Grail: The Quest for the North West Passage and the North Pole, 1818-1909 [Paperback]

Pierre Berton
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct. 9 2001
Scores of nineteenth-century expeditions battled savage cold, relentless ice and winter darkness in pursuit of two great prizes: the quest for the elusive Passage linking the Atlantic and the Pacific and the international race to reach the North Pole. Pierre Berton's #1 best-selling book brings to life the great explorers: the pious and ambitious Edward Parry, the flawed hero John Franklin, ruthless Robert Peary and the cool Norwegian Roald Amundsen. He also credits the Inuit, whose tracking and hunting skills saved the lives of the adventurers and their men countless times.

These quests are peopled with remarkable figures full of passion and eccentricity. They include Charles Hall, an obscure printer who abandoned family and business to head to a frozen world of which he knew nothing; John Ross, whose naval career ended when he spotted a range of mountains that didn't exist; Frederick Cook, who faked reaching the North Pole; and Jane Franklin, who forced an expensive search for her missing husband upon a reluctant British government.

Pierre Berton, who won his first Governor General's award for The Mysterious North, here again gives us an important and fascinating history that reads like a novel as he examines the historic events of the golden age of Arctic exploration.

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From Amazon

The polar north has always lured the passionate mind, the eccentric, and the damned. Pierre Berton’s The Arctic Grail is a substantial chronicle of these explorers, some of whom sought an economical northern route to the East and others adventure and fame, not to mention the backers who supported their primarily marine expeditions. Berton’s prose reads like good fiction, providing insight into the lives of the men who journeyed north--and those left behind hoping for their safe return. “I would not recall you,” wrote Isabella Parry to her absent husband in her diary. “Your path leads to glory and honour and never would I turn you from that path when I feel it is the path you ought to go....”

The obstinate pride of the planners and leaders of these expeditions commanded respect from their peers despite a recurring failure to learn from past, often fatal errors. The icon of the north, John Franklin, who through his disappearance became “the symbol of nineteenth-century Arctic exploration,” is but one of the players. Other less familiar names figure in. There’s John Ross, whose 1818 expedition was one of the earliest. And William Edward Parry, whose failed 1824-1825 voyage to find the Northwest Passage resulted in the wrecking of his vessel The Fury. And first officer W. Parker Snow, who specialized in tall tales of the murder of John Franklin by Eskimos. Each contributes to The Arctic Grail a sense of adventure, passion, and perseverance in the face of all that nature can unleash. --Tim Tokaryk

From Publishers Weekly

The literature of Arctic exploration teems with exciting stories of hardship, valor, conflict and mystery. There are three distinct periods of exploration: the quest for the Northwest Passage by the British Navy, the 15-year search for the lost Franklin Expedition and the attempts to reach the North Pole. Berton ( The Mysterious North ) combines these voyages into a single narrative that focuses on the explorers. We see the mindset of the British, unwilling to take advice from whalers and, for 90 years, refusing to avail themselves of the dogsleds and Eskimo clothing best suited to Arctic conditions. We follow the progression from the desire for discovery and scientific knowledge to obsession with national pride and personal ambition. Berton examines in detail the Cook-Peary controversy and concludes that both men were charlatans and neither reached the North Pole; modern scholarship supports this theory. Readers who think the ultimate adventure took place at the South Pole should rediscover the Arctic explorations. Illustrations.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
In the published memoirs of that stubborn and often maddening Arctic explorer Sir John Ross, there is a remarkable illustration of an encounter that took place on August 10, 1818, between two British naval officers and a band of Greenland Eskimos. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best on Arctic Exploration April 11 2003
If you like to read about the incredible world of Arctic exploration, this is a book you must read! Pierre Berton covers almost 100 years of man's effort to discover the Northwest Passage and the North Pole. Although it is a long read (over 600 pages) the author's wonderful storytelling style keeps you eagerly turning page after page. Each account seems to have been well researched and the facts are there for the reader to absorb. It is amazing to read how poorly the British were prepared for Arctic travel, how they refused to learn from the native people, yet how much they achieved in spite of their attitude. This book has a good message for us all. We can learn from others! Those explorers who did so, were a lot more successful in the long run. The book ends with Peary and Cook's claim to the North Pole. It is quite an account of two men who were more consumed with their image rather than the truth. Who was the greatest of the bunch? You'll have fun picking your winner. I vote for Roald Amundsen! This is a great book!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Pierre Berton Aug. 10 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I wish I had time to read all of Berton's books.
This is arguably the best account of the amazing feats of the 19th century Arctic exploration. Excellent maps and illustrations, a must for anyone interested in the fascinating history of the 19 century.
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5.0 out of 5 stars How can you go wrong, it's Pierre Berton! Jan. 18 2012
Not as good as the Last Spike or the National Dream, but it is still Pierre Berton, which is to say that stories are masterfully crafted and written. Each of the characters springs to life. It's well worth whatever you're going to pay.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The story of Arctic exploration Jan. 3 2006
By C. Hill
Before I picked up this book, I had no idea what a detailed and interesting history lay behind the explorations of the Arctic region. This is a truly fascinating book about man's determined quest to explore one of the last unexplored regions of the world.
This is a story of the search for the Northwest Passage, that elusive waterway that would let ships sail over the north of what is now Canada, instead of having to sail around the tip of South America. Even after the British had determined that the icy arctic conditions and the maze of islands made the Northwest Passage worthless as a commercial shipping route, they were still determined to find it anyway. Ship after ship headed to the Arctic to find the passage, sometimes spending two or three winters trapped in the ice, with only a few warm summer months each year in which to explore before the winter ice returned. Many men died, mostly because of the remarkable inability of the British Navy to learn from its mistakes, or more importantly, to learn from the natives, who had lived in the Arctic for thousands of years. The British sailors wore wool instead of fur and sealskin, refused to hunt (they didn't even know how), suffered from scurvy from their impractical diets, and hauled extremely heavy sledges over the ice with man power instead of dogs. Not only did the British fail to learn from the natives, but the natives also got less than their fair share of credit at the time for helping avert death and starvation for hundreds of expeditions over the years.
This is also a story of the quest to reach the North Pole. Early explorers held the belief that the top of the world was an open polar sea, and tried to sail all the way to the pole. Once that theory was abandoned, explorers tried other ways of getting there.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Everything there is to know Nov. 8 2009
By Marc Ranger TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
First thing, I ran out of Antarctic books to read. I've read them all. So, naturally, I had to find something else to read. First book I tried about Arctic exploration was Frozen in time. Excellent book. The Arctic was worth a second try. Here comes The Arctic Grail. Fantastic work. Couldn't put the book down. Learning about John Ross, Adolfus Greely, Soloman Andre, Robert McClure, John Rae and so on was a marvelous experience for me. The Artic's history is as fascinating has the Antarctic's.

You'll get a fine introduction to the Peary-Frederick A Cook rivalry. However, if you need to deepend your knowledge of that controversy, may I suggest "Cook and Peary, the Polar controversy resolved". Dr Cook is a fellow one has to know.

Back to the book at hand, you'll learn that the British Navy...learned absolutly nothing about polar travel and your appreciation of Robert Falcon Scott will sink even lower.

5 big stars for Pierre Berton.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A must read May 22 2004
I was already a great fan of Pierre Berton, as well as being very interested in arctic exploration and history, so it was a natural that I picked this book up. I wasn't disappointed. This may be the best book that Berton has written. For certain, the material is irresistable. There were sections where it sounded as though Berton lost his temper at the imbecilic and entrenched attitudes of some of the explorers. This book is often a testament to man's unwillingness to adapt, and the down the nose view of Europeans of the exploration era to other cultures. Only this time, it was the Europeans that paid the price for their snobbery.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful reading experience Aug. 11 2003
Definitely worth your while to pick up this book. I was gripped from beginning to end. Only the fact that I also had the rest of my life to get on with could wrench me from this book. This is a wonderful account of the various characters that entered the Arctic searching for the Northwest Passage, the North Pole and scientific discoveries. Most possessed some ignorance and arrogance which made their stay in the Arctic rather more adventurous than necessary. I won't say any more, just read this book and discover the wonders within.
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