James Gordon Bennett is newspaper owner who specializes in the outrageous and not altogether true stories.
Captain George Washington DeLong made his name for a daring attempt made to reach survivors of a ship that was destroyed by ice in the Arctic when he was still a Lieutenant in the US Navy. The Arctic got into his blood, something that surprised him, and he spent several years studying and plotting to get back there – but as the captain of his own expedition this time.
Bennett becomes very interested in the Arctic and agrees to fund DeLong’s expedition to the North Pole. They consult the latest maps and scientific data. They meet with the eminent scientists of the day and gather data that is suspect by today’s standards. (From our point of view we can see that some of the ideas put forth at the time were outrageous at best and some of them were downright dangerous. )
Before they set sail on July 8, 1879, DeLong is ordered by his superiors at the US Navy to check on a fellow explorer at Bennett’s behest. DeLong is furious for he knows the other explorer is not yet overdue and most likely is fine. But he must follow orders, so he takes the time to look for the other man’s party. He misses him by a mere week, but of course doesn’t know it. He finally gets the work from some native Alaskans that they have seen him and he had sailed away already. DeLong has lost some time and fears the worst.
As they head north through the Bering Strait, they find their first trouble. DeLong and the rest of the crew (for the most part), take their difficulties in their stride. The thirty-two men seem to get along fine aside from some petty jealousies and rivalries.
The Jeanette was to spend several months trapped in the ice pack. The men kept up their spirits though, and there was some game – polar bears, seals and such – that came close enough to the ship that the crew was served occasional fresh meat. An island was spotted that caused much excitement. Some of the crew came down with lead poisoning. (How they kept up their spirits in all this is beyond me. It was a sure testament to the human drive to thrive.)
With the breaking up and sinking of the Jeannette, all thirty-three men took to the ice along with their dogs. DeLong had been anticipating it for some time, so they had sufficient time to offload the most important items for the long trek ahead of them.
What follows is a story filled with horror, hardship and severe privation. My heart goes out to the brave men who undertook this expedition knowing very well what might lay in store for them.
This book is excellently written. Mr. Sides gives a detailed explanation of the search for and refurbishing of the Pandora, soon to become the Jeannette. He fully describes and illustrates all of the main characters, Delong, Bennett, Petermann and several men of the crew and officers. His research must have been exhaustive. Very well done and I recommend this book to anyone interested in arctic exploration, adventure or just for a very good read.