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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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The Arctic Grail: The Quest for the North West Passage and the North Pole, 1818-1909 + Klondike: The Last Great Gold Rush, 1896-1899
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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 The story of Arctic exploration Jan. 3 2006
By C. Hill
Format:Paperback
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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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
Format:Paperback
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 Definitely well-researched, warts-and-all May 29 2001
Format:Paperback
This is a great, all-encompassing view of Arctic exploration from 1818-1909. It is a book about explorers as much as exploration, and about the people behind the scenes, such as Lady Franklin, the people who funded the expeditions, the politicians. Berton tells their stories warts and all; the heroism and sacrifice, the back stabbing and human failings and weaknesses. All of this makes the explorers, even the heroes, seem more human. I liked the parts about the early British Naval explorers--Franklin, the Rosses, Parry. They refused to learn anything from the 'uncivilized' Eskimoes who were obviously living off the land and sea; they refused to learn from the whalers who had been sailing the Arctic for decades, they refused to learn from the fur traders and voyageurs who had been living in this hostile land. The Navy insisted on going in with large crews with tons of provisions. They could not pick up on even simple things, such as eating blubber could stave off scurvy, which should have been evident as the Eskimoes never suffered from this disease. Some of the anecdotes of the officers trying to make the natives understand their 'civilized' ways are hilarious. This book is filled with both heroism and tragedy, neither of which were in short supply in the quest for the North Pole and the Northwest Passage. Highly recommended.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Very Comprehensive and Interesting Book Jan. 2 2001
Format:Paperback
As a resident of Barrow, Alaska, high in the Arctic, I have found Berton's book both accurate and easy to read. I'm so glad it has been reprinted. My only concern is that my old paperback version is falling apart, maybe because I have read and re-read it so much. Berton pulls together a wide variety of topics and quests, especially the quest for the North Pole and Northwest Passage. And he correctly adds a skepticism about many of these expeditions being funded in the name of science, but focusing on reaching the pole, or completing the passage, and fame instead.
The section on Edward Parry's near-completion of the Passage in 1819 is superb, as are those on the tragic Franklin Expedition, and the very flawed quest for the North Pole on the part of Cook and Peary (which was the most corrupt? A good question.)
The Arctic is a fascinating place. My wife Chris and I have lived in Barrow for over two decades, and we still get a thrill when we see the Arctic Ocean on our drives or walks around town. but the Arctic is often misunderstood. Berton sets the record straight, about the explorers, the Native people who had so much to teach the outsiders, and the fascinating, but fragile, part of our globe. buy this new edition before it gets out of print. Earl Finkler
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Pierre Berton
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. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Andrei Suceava
5.0 out of 5 stars How can you go wrong, it's Pierre Berton!
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. Read more
Published on Jan. 18 2012 by G. McNabb
5.0 out of 5 stars Everything there is to know
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. Read more
Published on Nov. 8 2009 by Marc Ranger
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read
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. Read more
Published on May 22 2004 by Melvin Scott
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful reading experience
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... Read more
Published on Aug. 11 2003 by Rodge
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book, wish it was twice as long.
The book is a superb account of the history of Arctic exploration in the 19th and early 20th century. Read more
Published on Dec 10 2001 by Leo Hamulczyk
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the greats
Out of print for a number of years, "The Arctic Grail" is indeed the Holy Grail of Arctic history books. Read more
Published on July 23 2001 by J. BURGESON
5.0 out of 5 stars Further reading...
I would like to recommend another book to anyone who has read "Artic Grail" -- it is by Edmund Bolles and is called "The Ice Finders" -- it picks up the story... Read more
Published on May 16 2000 by Stephen Balbach
5.0 out of 5 stars Get This Book Back Into Print! NOW!
I have read this book THREE times. It is a well written page turner, beautifully describing the era, and mentality, of the Arctic explorations of the 1800's. Read more
Published on April 1 2000
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