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on December 25, 2009
The Karluk's story really is one of a deserter and a hero. The expedition leader Stefansson, realizing his old and run-down vessel will not carry him to the promise land (being trapped in ice), desert ship and left Robert Bartlett holding the faith of the crew in his hand.

Barlett, a couragous, ressourful man takes it upon himself to save those under him, by leading a desesperate walk over the ice-flow to Wrangel Island. What makes this desesparate struggle stand apart from other Artic or Antarctic adventure is that 3 of the men under Bartlett (James Murray, Dr Allister Mackay and Henri Beauchat) thought they knew better and slipt rank. Murray (Endurance) and Mackay (Nimrod) had served under Shackelton and coudn't bear being ordered by a "lesser" man like Bartlett (who himself served under Peary).

Result? Bartlett saved most of the men under him and the trio of deserters was never heard of again...
Bartlett ultimatly had to leave most of his charges on Wrangel Island, while he and an Eskimo ally made an extraordinary, unbelievable journey through Siberia, Bering Strait and Alaska to get help.

Bottom line, The Ice Master is a Master of a book.
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on July 7, 2002
It amazes me how ignorant and unprepared some of the early artic explorers were.
The 1913 voyage of the Karluk north fits that mold. Many of the crew were not trained and had never been in harsh winter conditions. Supplies were bought and stowed haphazardly. The very ship worried the captain as being unworthy and not suited to travel in the ice. The leader bought second hand winter gear at rummage sale prices to save money and cheap pemmican that was not tested for purity.
After the ship stuck fast in the ice north of Alaska, the leader, a shameless man named Steffansson, abandoned the crew to head over the ice toward land. He did not go for help, but left so that he could continue to pursue his own egotistical goal of finding new lands above the Arctic Circle. That left the men (and one woman and two children who were part of an Eskimo family) at the fate of Captain Bartlett.
Fortunately, the Captain was a man of courage and character. His one great flaw happened early on, but was fatal. He knows his ship was not up to the journey north. Why an experienced captain like himself agreed to proceed is a mystery, but it was fortunate for the eventual survivors that he did. (Had he chosen not to captain the ship, Steffanson would have found another captain, probably made of lesser stuff than Bartlett.)
Bartlett would provide the authority, example and leadership that allowed half the crew to survive a winter on the ice and many months camped out on the most god-forsaken island in the world, Wrangle Island.
This fine book includes descriptions of life aboard the Karluk, life aboard an ice floe after the ship was crushed, a trek across miles of arctic ice to a godforsaken island that offered little in the way of improvement save its fixed location, a final two hundred mile hike by the Captain and his Eskimo from the island, across more frozen ocean, and across northern Siberia in order to mount a relief effort.
This tale is gripping. What these people endured, particularly the party that waited months on Wrangle Island not even knowing if Captain Bartlett had even reached Siberia is fascinating. This is a tale of grit, determination, strong characters and weak. It is a fine tale of arctic survival, well worth the read.
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on April 22, 2002
Books like this make me wonder what is in the head of some people. To leave your perfectly warm and comfortable house and job to spend two years tromping around the arctic in a cramped old boat, eating food that mostly resembles dog food, and being permanently cold - are you kidding me? I must just be a wimp, because this is exactly what this group does and of course the plan goes sour about as soon as they are out of reach of any help. I guess the book would not be that interesting if everything worked.
So the boat is stuck and then crushed and these guys all build little icehouses and hope to tough out the winter eating this horrible meat cake stuff they brought with them. Well you guessed it, about a day into this situation they start to fight, separate into different groups and finally just head off in different directions. What surprised me is that so many of them lived to tell about it thus the documents the author used for the book.
The book really moves along very well. She describes the cold so well you get chills just reading about it. The richness of her descriptions lets you really understand what happened, but the detail does not slow the book down at all. It moves fast right up to the end. This is an interesting book that any adventure reader will enjoy.
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on March 7, 2002
Those TV "survivors" have nothing on these guys! An amazing true story, "The Ice Master" details the misadventures of the ill-fated Karluk and her hapless crew on an early 20th century scientific research expedition gone awry. Searching the Arctic for a phantom continent, the expedition leader abandons his entire company when their ship becomes icebound off the Alaskan coast. Left to fend for themselves with limited supplies, few resources and not quite sure where they are, the crew quickly reduce to their true natures. Some are gallant, some are less so and some are downright nefarious. How each man plays a part in his own fate, as well as the fate of others, is the most captivating part of the story.
It is unimaginable to me that men, women and children could be stranded on an ocean of ice with limited resources and yet still survive. This is an incredible story of human ingenuity and pure force of will defeating circumstance and nature. Niven takes care with her documentation and cites books, diaries and personal interviews in her notes. A well-written and compelling read.
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on February 11, 2002
Author Jennifer Niven's first non-fiction work is a welcome and worthy addition to the library of polar expeditions and tragedies.
Niven managed to bring to life a doomed expedition that occured almost nine decades ago, based on various different sources well-documented in the bibliography at the end of the book. The brief yet informative backgrounds of the characters provide much insight to the reader as to their individual personalities. This in turn led to a greater understanding of how these personalities clashed later on as the hope of rescue got dimmer.
This book will be enjoyed by all those who are into accounts of polar adventures and survival. To me, this book was as good as Alfred Lansing's ENDURANCE. At least Shackleton's men had the good-fortune of a relatively close crew plus a strong leadership to hold them together. The survivors of the Karluk had neither. This book was enlightening as to the worst things that adversity can bring out in man, as well as the instinct for self-preservation. Reading of all the personality clashes evident, it was amazing that any of them survived at all.
If this account of the Karluk tragedy is to be believed, then its importance cannot be stressed enough. Blame needs to be laid upon Steffanson for his wanton disregard of the welfare of those who set out on this expedition with him. Captain Bartlett should be absolved of Steffanson's accusations and lies.
Ultimately, ICE MASTER is worth its weight in gold if only to illustrate human endurance at its highest level. Highly recommended!
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on December 1, 2001
This is a strong and well written account of the tragedy of the Karluk and it's men. We see and feel the struggle to cope and survive in the harsh environment of the Arctic. It is a good book, and makes a nice addition to Arctic adventure literature.
This is a wonderfully composed telling of the story of the Karluk. It is well written and nicely put together. The author draws from many different sources to give a full account of the story, including diaries and journals of the men, articles, books, newspaper clippings and interviews. The character development is superb - allowing us to really picture each person and their individual personalities. This is so important. The book centers around who these people were so that we can understand their actions and why tragedy befell them. Readers will be amazed at the strength and endurance of some men while being angered by the selfishness and ineptitude of others. The story is made richer by this, but the story is great on it's own. A ship-full of men surviving in terrible arctic conditions in desperate situations. Men struggling to travel to safety over torn-up ice and seemingly impassable ice walls and open leads of water between large ice floes. On top of this - the fight against starvation and disease. The beginning part of the book can seem semi-slow or boring if the reader is looking for adventure right away, but much of it sets up the story and develops characters so we get the full picture if the entire tragedy. Overall, though, it is a great book and will be enjoyed by anyone interested in Arctic adventure (sad though it may sometimes be).
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on July 17, 2001
As a tale of icy death and the lessons to be learned from it, "The Ice Master" ranks near the classic "The Last Place on Earth." As the author reveals, the "heroic" Vihjalmur Stefansson was not just a poor leader and planner, he was a coward who abandoned his people at the first opportunity, then blamed them for the ensuing disaster. At least Scott, for all his lack of foresight, had the courage to face death along with his men and to take responsibility for the failure. My only problem with the book was trying to follow all the crew's movements after the Karluk sinks. A few more detailed maps would have been helpful. I also wished for a more precise description of the firearms and equipment. These are minor flaws, however, and are more than made up for by the many haunting scenes. I find it hard to forget the main party's encounter with the doomed Beuchat sitting on the sea ice, his feet and hands too swollen to fit back in his shoes and gloves. Later on, the possibility of murder adds another dimension to the tale. Most terrible of all is the revelation of what became of the lost party. Read this book along with "Endurance" for a contrast, and to realize just what could have happened to the Endurance crew without Shackleton.
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on June 23, 2001
Overall I think that Jennifer Niven's account of this epic adventure is very good. I've got two areas of "criticism," one of which is probably unfair and one of which is speculation on my part. First (unfair), the second quarter of the book gets to be a bit mundane and reads, in some places, like a "data dump" of the survivor's diaries. The fact that this section of the book is a bit boring is probably quite reflective of the feelings that the subjects of the book had during this period of the adventure. Second (speculative), the book seems to me to be biased towards the views and observations of one of the characters (McKinley). I understand why this happened as he is the person who created the most first-person documentation of the adventure but I would advise the reader to take the descriptions of some of the more controversial events with a grain of salt. Overall, a great read. After getting through the mundane portion mentioned above I couldn't put it down.
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on February 27, 2001
Ms. Niven has pulled together a wonderful account of the survivors of the Karkuk. This book is simply riveting from beginning to end and a must read for survivalist story fans. The sinking of the Karluk is proven to be just the beginning of the tale, but she never lets us miss a detail of the drifting along the ice for several months. The cracking and crushing of the ice as it works its crushing hands against the ship is described so well, you can almost hear it. These men, stranded on Wrangel Island as their brave captain + Eskimo, lived on mere rations more almost a year and still maintained a sense of hope. The fact that many survived showed that chracter and the will to live can sometimes be much stronger than the perils of starvation and frostbite (May I never find this to be true in my own life....) Each day, is lived in such agony, we the reader, are brought along the journeys with them, and feel as if we are leaving a group behind as the men move about the ice and land. A fascinating book, and well worth reading. After this, I promise you, saying "It's cold in here" will have a completely different meaning.
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on February 6, 2001
Jennifer Niven's experience as a screenwriter stands her in good stead in "The Ice Master," a gripping tale of the doomed Arctic voyage of the ship Karluk. It is nearly impossible to imagine how anyone survived the Karluk, a rickety ship unsuited to the rigors of Arctic travel, manned by an ill-equipped & inexperienced group. The ship quickly became immobilized by an ice floe, at which point the expedition's "leader" callously abandoned his men. Embedded in the floe, the ship floated aimlessly while the remaining crew and passengers struggled to survive. After enduring months in the ice-locked ship, the Karluk was destroyed by shifting ice masses and sank, forcing the group to abandon ship and make camp on top of the ice. Later, the survivors trekked across treacherous ice until they reached a small, nearly uninhabitable island. There they hung on for many more months until their rescue, suffering from starvation, disease, frostbite, despair, and infighting. Niven's vivid descriptions of the horrors & deprivations faced by these individuals leave you awestruck at the strength of the human body and the power of the human spirit. Surviving by chewing seal blubber and walrus hides - snow blindness - a mysterious illness that left most of the survivors nearly incapacitated - hunting for game on a desolate and barren Arctic island with a sharpened stick - enduring below-zero temperatures and gale-force winds & snow for weeks at a time - 24-hour darkness in the winter - amputating frostbitten tissue with a pocket knife - it is nearly unbelievable. (Also unbelievable but infinitely more cheering is that the Karluk's little black cat managed to survive the ordeal, too.) Truly a book you cannot put down, that takes you outside your world & transports you to another place and time, and leaves you marveling at the good and evil that reside inside us all.
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