Monday, March 25, 2019

The Library of Ice

The Library of Ice: Readings from a Cold Climate

By Nancy Campbell

Scribner, $18.95 (hc); $11.99 (kindle)

Reviewed by P.J. Capelotti

Tucking in to another round of the freely flowing alcohol at last December’s annual Roald Amundsen Memorial Dinner at the Fram Museum in Oslo, there was only one recently published book any of my companions wanted to talk about: the poet-artist Nancy Campbell’s The Library of Ice.  In a warming world, where every Sonny Jim is tweeting up a storm at their latest High Arctic disaster tourism lark, such exuberance manifests every couple of years and one must endure.  Yet there were exclamations such as one has not heard since Barry Lopez’s Arctic Dreams in 1986 (also published by Scribner).  All agreed that The Library of Ice marked a fundament, the first truly significant cultural signpost of the natural calamity racing at us.

They were right.

It would be facile to suggest that the work should have been directly linked to Lopez with a title such as Arctic Nightmares, because there is so much more at work here than disaster tourism.  The author holds a key to not just a library but a whole associated archive and art gallery the likes of which few writers have ever been able to reveal.  The story centers on the notion that “polar ice is the first archive” and proceeds to carry through the metaphor with a seemingly effortless display that ranges from Inuit mythology to Antarctic ice cores to artifacts in the Pitt Rivers Museum to the Olympic skating routine of Torvill and Dean (and yes, the latter discussion is absolutely transfixing).  It is not effortless, of course, and instead the product of years of careful observation by a poet, writer, translator, sketch artist, and print artist of wondrous sensitivity.

Visiting or doing research in the Arctic forces one into different categories of thoughts.  Most of these, in order for us to make a living, we must discard, and fast.  Campbell shows us what a mistake this is.  Reading the peer notes of the first article on the Arctic I wrote some thirty years ago, one reviewer chastised it for sounding too much like Lopez.  This puzzled me, as I’d spent the previous fifteen years trying to write precisely like him.  But I took heed, rewrote, flattened, polished the science up and toned the flourish down, and so began a more or less dutiful slow crawl up the academic ladder.

Along the way, as I jogged in a straight line down Archaeology Road without my beloved copy of Lopez’s River Notes, I neglected to properly record so many memorable scenes right in front of my eyes: the brilliant maritime archaeologist smoking a pipe while peddling a bicycle at walking speed on the rough dirt road outside of Longyearbyen so that we could have a proper chat about an expedition from the 1890s as I walked alongside, a scene as incongruous as Paul Newman flirting with Katherine Ross on that frontier bicycle in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  Or the many drift artifacts noted but unrecorded on beaches throughout the Arctic, like the German light bulb seen on the north shore of Danskøya, a fragile glass bulb carried to an Arctic shore a hundred kilometers from the nearest lamp (and probably 2,000 kilometers from the lamp it had once been fitted to), an unlikely survivor of forces that could kill a human in seconds.  The Arctic both lifts one’s eyes to take in some of the planet’s most remarkable landscapes at the same time it presents small human connections that are easily ignored or quickly forgotten—while also making sure you maintain a weather eye (and a ready firearm) in case of polar bears.

The Library of Ice, fortunately, never makes this mistake.  No detail is lost or forgotten.  It is, one could argue, the first great literature of the Anthropocene.  If you don’t believe this, go to page 33, where a sentence concludes: “if humans are lucky, there may be more decades ahead.”  Decades.  If we are lucky.  Thus chastened, we embark on a journey around the Radcliffe Camera to the Bodleian to uncover Robert Boyle’s History of Cold.  One imagines John Thaw’s Inspector Morse drinking at The White Horse across the street—a crazy thought until, sure enough, Morse code makes an appearance later in the book.  One searches for the many prophecies in this book just as when listening to the music in Morse, where the composer of the soundtrack, Barrington Pheloung, would telegraph the name of the murderer in code in each episode.

The journey in The Library of Ice is undertaken by a poor pilgrim, with just a few quid for a drink and bed-sit, the very best of a miserable generation of academics bereft of proper positions or funding as the world inexplicably funnels buckets of cash upwards and away from renewable energies, digitization and democratization of archives, the preservation of indigenous lifeways, and a hundred other necessities.  It is therefore an incredibly brave voyage, fearless in its way of postponing the inevitable reckoning of settling down to what used to be called a proper living to record another, larger, global reckoning.  The brilliance of Campbell’s method is a stream of cultural connections tied to the theme of memory and loss: the architecture of the University of Greenland fitted to its surroundings, the ringing of the Terra Nova bell for tea and cakes twice a day at Scott Polar in Cambridge, the crafting the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office from the wreck of HMS Resolute in the Arctic.

Not being an artist, I am not qualified to attest to the descriptions of the wide variety of styles and media employed by the author.  But every note she strikes on the life of a library and archive rat rings true, with only one or two flat notes: 1921 being set in the 19th century, and Knud Rasmussen traveling “eastwards” from Greenland to trace the route of Inuit to Alaska.

But these slips of the fingers do nothing to detract from an author who can range from Mylius-Erichson’s 1902-04 Danish Literary Expedition (scientists needed not apply) to the genius of Halldór Laxness, from the Battle of Vittorio Veneto (into which my own grandfather was drafted but thankfully never showed up, lest someone else undertake this review) to the labyrinth of the Prose Edda, and from Ötzi the Iceman to Vander-Molen’s utterly Vernian attempt to cross Iceland via the Jökulsá á Fjöllum river in an ultralight aeroplane in 1983.  This latter expedition was so endlessly fantastic that it served as one of several inspirations that eventually sent me north.  It was sandwiched between the 1979 publication of Roland Huntford’s Scott and Amundsen and its dramatization by Trevor Griffiths as Judgement over the Dead to its filming in Greenland as the luminous The Last Place on Earth in 1984 and the publication of Lopez’s Arctic Dreams two years later.  How was anyone to avoid a scramble to the Poles with that cultural backdrop?

Still and all, it does bring back another missed pathway: my major professor—a lovely New Zealander and renowned paleoanthropologist working on Pliocene stone tools—telling me way back in 1995 that I needed to apply my Arctic work to this new-fangled idea of global climate change.  I do remember walking from his office and thinking that the old man was crazy: Arctic ice was as permanent as permanent could be.  I couldn’t see where my work could be of any use on that score.

Well.  Twenty-five years later, as Ragnarök approaches, it is up to scholars like Nancy Campbell to record it all before the world melts and the old gods are defeated and washed away.  From behind her carrel in this Library of Ice, Campbell has brilliantly developed the theme of ice as both memory and loss of memory.  Now, for goodness’ sake, someone get her a pint and a very large grant.  That library’s almost gone and it’s not going to read itself.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

White Fox and Icy Seas in the Western Arctic

White Fox and Icy Seas in the Western Arctic: The Fur Trade, Transportation, and Change in the Early Twentieth Century

by John Bockstoce

New Haven: Yale University Press

Reviewed by Kenn Harper

John Bockstoce has devoted his career to researching and documenting whaling and trading activities in the Bering Strait region of the Arctic. His previous books include Whales, Ice and Men: The History of Whaling in the Western Arctic and Furs and Frontiers in the Far North: The Contest among Native and Foreign Nations for the Bering Strait Fur Trade.

The present volume extends and completes this work, bringing its temporal coverage up to World War II, and extending its geographic coverage into the western and central regions of the Canadian Arctic. Indeed, study of the fur trade in the region between Herschel Island and the Boothia Peninsula has been neglected until now.

The focus of this volume is squarely on trapping and trading for the pelt of the white fox, and includes that pursuit by both Native people and immigrant trappers and traders. The geographic scope of the work is vast. In Bockstoce’s terminology, the term Western Arctic includes the land and water of the Chukchi Peninsula in Russia, northern Alaska, the northern Yukon, the Mackenzie River delta, the mainland coast of the western and central Canadian Arctic, and the islands north of that coast. Bockstoce points out, “Within this district the participants in the fur trade included Chukchi, Siberian Yupik, Alaskan Eskimos, Alaskan and Canadian Gwich’in, Canadian Inuvialuit, Inuinnait, Inuit, persons of European descent, Russians, and many other foreign nationalities.”

Bockstoce notes in his preface that he thinks of all these people, both Native and non-Native, as simply “Northerners”. This is a refreshing departure from the new orthodoxy – or the constantly renewing orthodoxy – in which Canada, at least, has relegated the previously acceptable terms “native” and later “aboriginal” to the sidelines in favour of the new flavour of the day – “Indigenous.” In the Canadian new orthodoxy, meanwhile, White people, no matter how long their pedigree reaches back in this country, are recast, or miscast, as “settlers” (never with a capital), a quasi-pejorative term in the hands of many academics, which I cheerfully eschew.  I am pleased to note its absence in this work.

The author begins his book near the end of the story, with an interesting narrative on the establishment and subsequent abandonment by the Hudson’s Bay Company of a fur trade post at Fort Ross on Somerset Island at the eastern extremity of the geographic scope of his work. This post, which operated only from 1937 to 1948, was where east met west in the Canadian North. It began with a dream necessitated by the company’s realization that supplying its posts in the area of King William Island from the west was fraught with difficulty caused by ice, weather, and distance. The company’s plan was to ship supplies from Montréal through Lancaster Sound and Prince Regent Inlet to Fort Ross, where they would be transferred to a western-based schooner to supply company posts west of Boothia Peninsula. After a few years of success, the project ultimately failed because of ice conditions but also due to the sustained drop in value of white fox pelts.

This leads nicely into the second chapter, White Fox: From the Trapper to the Retail Customer, a detailed discussion of the animal itself, the trapping of it, pelt preparation, sale of pelts at the local level, and the lives of the trappers, both Native and foreign. Beyond the local level, the author carries the discussion on to include the fur auction, preparation of pelts by dealers, the manufacturing of fur garments, and their sale at both the wholesale and retail levels. This is an in-depth look at the economics and social aspects of the white fox trade that, to my knowledge, has not been presented elsewhere in such an integrated and holistic manner.

At this point, the author was faced with a choice – to present the narrative in chronological order or arrange it by region. He has wisely opted to do both. The rest of the book is presented in three parts, covering three time periods. The first, spanning the years 1899 to 1914, describes the development and geographic expansion of the fur trade. The second period covers the glory days from 1914 to 1929 – Bockstoce calls it the “heyday” of the fur trade. The third period covers the years 1929 to approximately 1950 – the end date varies geographically. Within each of these three periods the author discusses events within the three geographic regions: Chukotka, northern Alaska, and “Western Arctic Canada.” [I should note that, as a Canadian, I think of the Western Canadian Arctic as being the area from the Alaskan border to the area of Baillie Island, and the rest of the area from there to Boothia Peninsula and Somerset Island as the Central Canadian Arctic. The recent settlement of native land claims in the area is probably changing the perception of those Canadians who care, so that the consensus of today’s understanding would be that the Western Canadian Arctic extends from the Alaskan border to the Nunavut border, and the rest of the coastline and islands from there to Boothia Peninsula is the Central Arctic, what we Canadians call the Kitikmeot Region.]

This organizational decision allows the author to discuss in detail the activities in the three regions, without the reader losing track of the timeline. And still it is a complex story. But it works.

Bowhead whaling, of which the author has written extensively, transformed the cultures of the native people on both sides of Bering Strait after 1848. Native peoples had also hunted bowheads, but primarily for their meat and blubber; non-Native whalers were more interested in the baleen but they also traded manufactured goods to the natives for the pelts of foxes and other land mammals. Eventually, gold also contributed to the transformation of Native society, bringing an influx of White treasure seekers to the North and presenting new opportunities for trade.

I should confess, at this point, my personal preference in reading history is biography. So I looked for, and found, the larger-than-life characters that one would expect in an epic of the north. Charlie Carpendale, an Australian; Bengt Vold, a Norwegian; and Olaf Swenson, a Swedish-American were just a few of the names of the traders on the front lines of this cultural transformation on the Siberian coast. Soon enough whaling made its impact on the north coast of Alaska with entrepreneurs like Charlie Brower at Point Barrow, from which station the industry pushed eastward to Herschel Island off the Yukon coast. Whalers and traders like Fritz Wolki took it past Herschel as far as the Baillie Island area, but it remained for the Danish cook-turned-whaler Christian Klengenberg to push into the last unexplored area of the North American coast line, into the central Canadian Arctic and initiate trade with the people today called Inuinnait, then known as the Copper Eskimos. Joseph Bernard plays an important and largely unsung role in this saga. A Canadian from Prince Edward Island, he described himself as “a trader uninterested in fortune; an explorer uninterested in fame; but consumed with a great curiosity about things of science and nature.” Bernard wintered his famous vessel, Teddy Bear, three times in Dolphin and Union Strait and Coronation Gulf between 1910 and 1914, where he traded and collected material goods and artifacts which today grace many museums. It was probably because of information gleaned from Bernard that Christian Klengenberg relocated his trading efforts to Coronation Gulf in 1916.

In his classic The People of the Twilight, the anthropologist Diamond Jenness noted that the fur trade transformed Copper Inuit society from collectivist to individualist. Copper Inuit were the last Inuit to be influenced by outside forces. Some had had fleeting interactions with explorers in the previous century, but the onslaught of traders, police and missionaries in the second decade of the twentieth century was brutally quick and transformative of all aspects of their culture. Jenness noted that “Only in one respect did it benefit them: it lessened the danger of those unpredictable famines which had overtaken them every ten or fifteen years.” Many who had suffered through those famines may have felt that it was worth the price. John Bockstoce says as much; during his many sojourns in the north, he “began to perceive how the lives of these ‘Northerners’ [and he is speaking not only of the Inuinnait]… had changed because of their participation in the whaling industry and the fur trade – and in the opinion of most of them, mainly for the better.”

In Russia, the Soviet government put the brakes on the unchecked proliferation of trading on the western side of the Bering Strait. In Canada the Royal North West Mounted Police (later renamed Royal Canadian Mounted Police) established detachments in an effort to bring law and order to the Western Canadian Arctic. At the same time the giant Hudson’s Bay Company moved eastward from the Mackenzie Delta, slowly but inexorably crushing its opponents, the independent traders. Captain C. T. Pedersen was the public face in the north for two trading companies, the Northern Whaling and Trading Company in Alaska, and the Canalaska Trading Company in the Canadian Arctic. He and his unseen southern partner Albert Herskovitz were the last to sell out or fold. In 1938 he sold the Canadian company to his well-capitalized rival. The Inuit had benefited from Pedersen’s presence. “Pedersen’s goods were of higher quality, his prices were lower, his deliveries were more reliable, and Captain and Mrs. Peterson’s accommodating personalities were far more attractive to customers than the HBC’s detachment and disinterest,” writes Bockstoce.

The outsized personalities who people this book and found success as traders were not only non-Native. On the Siberian side the Native trader Quwaaren was extremely successful, so much so that in the 1880s he purchased a sixty-foot schooner from an American whaler. Natkusiak from Alaska, also known as Billy Banksland, and others from the Mackenzie Delta settled Banks Island, virgin territory for white fox trapping, and accumulated wealth in the glory years of the fur trade. Some were able to buy their own schooners. Some even travelled occasionally to Seattle in their own vessels to purchase supplies. The author also devotes considerable consideration to a successful Canadian Inuit trader and middleman in the central Arctic, Angulalik.

Fur prices had been at record heights in 1928. But the stock market crash of the following year was mirrored quickly in the fur markets worldwide. By 1934 the retail fur market was 30% of its 1929 turnover. The market never recovered.

The end of Bockstoce’s narrative coincides with the end of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s dream of uniting east and west through the use of Fort Ross as a trans-shipment point for goods. The fur trade was not dead but it was stagnant, and the HBC, having secured its long-sought monopoly in the Western Canadian Arctic, was left to maintain its position largely unopposed. With Soviet control of Siberia in the 1920s, a curtain of silence descended on the western side of Bering Strait, with knowledge of developments there seldom reaching North America. Inuit society in both Alaska and the Western Canadian Arctic, in the meantime, had been transformed. The author notes, in his concluding paragraph, “A market for white fox pelts exist to this day, but the price – and the reward for the trapper and for the trapper’s family – has never returned to the glory days of the 1920s.”

John Bockstoce’s research for this book, done in tandem with that for his other major works, covers half a century. It shows. His scholarship is impeccable and his writing lucid and captivating. The book is well-bound, with an attractive dust jacket. Front and back end-maps cover the geographic scope of the book, and contain all relevant place names. Other maps are included with the text as necessary. Numerous relevant photographs are included, and their captions are generous and informative. The Acknowledgments read like a Who’s Who of Arctic scholarship and western Arctic citizenry covering many decades. Of particular note and utility, the book has an eight-page chronology.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Unchained Man

Unchained Man: The Arctic life and times of Captain Robert Abram Bartlett

by Maura Hanrahan

Portugal Cove-St Philip’s, NL: Boulder Publications

Reviewed by Jonathan Dore

Robert Bartlett was born in Brigus, Newfoundland, in 1875, and bucked the tradition of his locally famous ancestors by going to sea not to hunt seals but to explore, gravitating always towards the far north. The best-known expeditions in which he participated were the last three of Peary (1898-1902 in the Windward, and 1905-06 and 1908-09 in the Roosevelt), including his attempts on the North Pole, and Stefansson’s Canadian Arctic Expedition of 1913-18 in the Karluk. In the latter three expeditions Bartlett was captain of the ship, but not expedition leader, and the ambivalence of this position means that he would probably be known only to Arctic exploration aficionados but for his extraordinary 700-mile journey, with the Inuit hunter Claude Kataktovik, to seek help for the stranded survivors of the Karluk in 1914, showing leadership of a kind that Stefansson so pointedly lacked. It was this journey, so reminiscent of Shackleton’s rescue of the Endurance crew two years later, that propels Bartlett into the realm of mythic fame. Haunted by the tragic death—despite his best efforts—of 11 expedition members from the Karluk, he succumbed to alcoholism in the following decade before restoring equilibrium and sense of purpose to his life when he started leading his own series of annual expeditions in his own schooner, the Effie Morrissey, over the twenty-odd years before his death in 1946.

Almost all of this information can be found, scattered randomly like grass seed, at some point or other in Maura Hanrahan’s book. But it really shouldn’t be as difficult to find as it is. It’s not often that one finishes the opening chapter of a non-fiction book bemused by the simple question of what the author is trying to achieve. Even rarer that the puzzlement remains on reaching the end of the book. Ostensibly a biography (“life and times” could scarcely be a more traditional marker of the genre), Unchained Man seems, by contrast, to be segments of several different books with different goals, all sadly unrealized. It’s not even clear that a biography is one of them.

The book’s opening chapter launches straight into Peary’s last expedition. Often such points of high drama function as brief openers in biographies to draw a reader in before returning to the subject’s origins. Here instead we get not only the author’s full account of the expedition, but also of Peary and Bartlett’s two previous expeditions, mixed in with summaries of Inuit–European relations, theories of imperialism, racism, and white male privilege, and thumbnail sketches of a generous handful of Bartlett ancestors, in a chapter in which Peary is a far more visible presence than Bartlett. The author seems somewhat naïve in assessing Peary’s truthfulness about reaching the Pole, and it’s a question how familiar she is with the literature on the subject—Robert Bryce’s Cook and Peary: The Polar Controversy, Resolved and Wally Herbert’s The Noose of Laurels are both notable for their absence from the book’s bibliography. The sparsity of dates, absence of maps, and lack of dramatic flair in the writing are also serious failings in this chapter as an account of an expedition.

Chapter 2, “A cottage hearth and open waters: An expectant childhood” looks like it might be going back to the beginning to give us the background we need to put Bartlett’s later exploits in context, but here again we are destined to be frustrated. The explorer’s own childhood is referred to occasionally, and fleetingly, in the context of a long and rambling essay on his immediate family and ancestors—expanding on the thumbnail sketches begun in chapter 1—many of whom the author writes about with patently greater interest and warmth than she shows for her supposed subject. Eight pages are devoted to the explorer’s grandmother Mary Leamon, within which four are spent describing in great detail a stipulation in her will that her descendants should not marry into a particular local family—something that might, at a push, warrant two or three sentences in a biography of Robert Bartlett. Even the two pages devoted to his younger sisters’ later tearoom business (several decades out of place in this chapter) is more than we learn about the first thirty years of Robert Bartlett’s own life.

Surely chapter 3—“Sculpting a life: Gaffs, compasses, and following on” will make amends? But no: whoever’s life is being sculpted, it isn’t Bob Bartlett’s. The family history simply continues uninterrupted, this time following the Y chromosome back through several generations of hard-bitten Bartlett sealers and sailors. By the end of it, we are half-way through the book and have had 135 pages on the social history of Brigus seen through the lens of a few interrelated families over several generations, mixed in with an abbreviated and unfocused account of Peary’s later expeditions and generous dollops of apologetic fussing about how racist and sexist everyone was in the nineteenth century, as if autres temps, autres mœurs were a new discovery. What we emphatically don’t have is what’s promised on the cover of the book.

In chapter 4 we hit the half-way point, and the author’s account of the Karluk disaster, once again short of dates, route maps, and telling the story in chronological order—the basic apparatus needed to make an expedition account intelligible to the reader. What the author does finally achieve, however, is the foregrounding of Robert Bartlett, and specifically of his life-saving trek from Wrangell Island to the Siberian mainland and across the Bering Strait to summon help. Even here, however, the drama must take a back seat to the author’s virtue-signalling concern to quantify precisely how much respect Bartlett is showing to his companion Kataktovik and the succession of Chukchi hosts who, once on land, gave them hospitality and supplies that saved their lives. It is instructive to compare this to the expertly crafted prose, seamlessly assimilated archival research, clearly drawn character sketches, perfectly paced narrative, and simple, non-judgemental warmth of human understanding seen in Jennifer Niven’s account of the disaster, The Ice Master (2002).

Chapters 5 and 6 happily continue to focus on Bartlett, and take us through the last thirty years of his life. Though now famous enough for his name and image to be used in advertising everything from tobacco to breakfast cereal, and despite being the author of his own account of the Karluk’s voyage (later he also wrote an autobiography), he was dogged by dissatisfaction, unease, and probably survivor guilt, his reliance on alcohol gradually increasing over a decade that ended with him being run over on a New York street. The enforced abstinence of his subsequent time in hospital was enough to break the spell, and he determined to swear off liquor for good. Determined to go north again on his own terms, he bought a schooner of the kind he knew from his early days in Newfoundland and started to use the wealthy New York contacts his fame had brought him to conduct a series of summer voyages to the coasts of Labrador and Baffin Bay in which the sons of the rich would pay to act as crew (though always with a core staff of professional sailors) on a character-building adventure. It proved to be a winning formula that provided Bartlett with a living for the rest of his life. Mentoring the young seemed to give him genuine pleasure too, and Hanrahan picks out his nephew Jack Angel and the geographer David Nutt, later one of the founders of climate science, as particularly significant. Science was another interest that flowered in Bartlett’s later life, particularly the collecting of plant and animal specimens for museums, and stemmed from the spiritual refreshment he always got from nature, part of the attraction that kept drawing him back to the Arctic.

Although all these elements emerge in Hanrahan’s account, their presentation lacks the essential chronological markers needed to make sense of a person’s life, which is after all experienced, and develops, in only a forward direction through time. When writing a biography, a thematic approach is not enough.

Hanrahan seems to have been caught between the desire to write several different books, and has tried unsatisfactorily to do a bit of all of them. One, perhaps, is a history of the town of Brigus as an example of a prosperous nineteenth-century sealing and fishing town. Another is a family history, showing the ebb and flow of personal and social forces that mould each generation’s outlook and life chances. A third is an attempt to recover the hidden stories of a series of impressive and formidable women, in danger of being lost because their accomplishments were more often domestic than public. All of these are worthwhile projects, and deserve their own books. They should not have been shoehorned into a biography of Robert Bartlett, a project that one senses lost the author’s interest at some point. The decade of archival research on three continents that she undertook for this book should have made it a definitive biography; instead it seems merely to have distracted the author into disappearing down innumerable rabbit holes, and then presenting her findings as if they were all equally relevant. The crucial discipline of selection is missing.

At root the problem perhaps stems from the author’s lack of interest in, or sympathy with, geographical exploration, the activity that motivated Bartlett. Certainly anyone capable of writing the breathtakingly unqualified statement that “racism was at the foundation of all exploration activity” could not be accused of a broad or deep knowledge of the field, as numerous errors of fact throughout the book illustrate. In the page 23 footnote, Hanrahan brackets Svalbard with Australia and Canada as “colonized” places subject unjustly to the legal doctrine of terra nullius, seemingly unaware that Svalbard had never had any human inhabitants before its discovery by the Dutch in 1596. On page 20, she brackets Ernest Shackleton with Robert Scott as having “military origins” (an idea Scott would have found wryly amusing), and in the page 57 footnote has Shackleton’s famous open-boat journey in 1916 ending at the Falkland Islands rather than South Georgia. On page 35 she writes that in 1906 “the ailing Roosevelt had pushed farther north than any ship in history” (to 82°20′N—the latitude is not actually given in the book), unaware that the most celebrated ship in polar history, the Fram, had been more than three degrees further north (to 85°57′), ten years earlier. On page 147 this claim is given an even more bizarre twist, in the statement that Bartlett was “the first captain to take a ship north of 88 degrees”, something that no ship achieved before nuclear-powered icebreakers in the 1970s, and perhaps the result of conflating the earlier claim, already false, with Bartlett’s own personal farthest north on foot in 1909. On page 40 she berates Peary for naming features on the north-east coast of Greenland in 1892 and 1895: “In so doing he completely ignored the long-standing Inuit presence in the Arctic”. But as with Svalbard, it is the author who is unaware of when and where that presence was and was not to be found: Thule settlement of the north-east coast of Greenland had declined long before European contact, and had been extinct for some seventy years by the time of Peary’s first expeditions. Their names for geographical features, never written down or part of any surviving group’s oral history, therefore were and are definitively unrecoverable. On page 142 Bartlett’s acclaimed navigation of the stricken Roosevelt was in 1906, not 1909 (as the author knows, having written about it in chapter 1), and on page 143 Sam Bartlett’s voyage of 1903-04 had made claim to the eastern Arctic specifically on behalf of Canada, not Britain, which had transferred its claim to the dominion in 1880. On page 241, Roald Amundsen had not yet, in 1909, even announced he was aiming for the South Pole, let alone reached it. And on page 242, George Francis Lyon was certainly never part of an expedition aiming for the North Pole, though his former commander Parry had been.

The failure is as much the publisher’s as the author’s. The book’s editor should have obliged the author to make a root-and-branch restructuring of the content, jettisoning whole chapters, tightening up others, adding new ones, and restoring some sense of direction and focus. The copy-editor should have dealt with the errors listed above, as well as absent-minded inversions and solecisms like “biscuits of tins” (156), “London Illustrated News” (167), and “Royal Geographic Society” (241). Both individuals are named on the book’s copyright page, a practice the publisher might want to reconsider.

Most readers who buy a biography of Robert Bartlett will be, in some sense, fans of exploration history. An archivally researched biography of Bartlett has long been needed. On both counts it seems a shame that the assignment should have fallen to someone whose antipathy to the very activity that gives the story life makes her so ill-suited to the task. Such a narrative should be a dramatic gift to the author; what results instead sorely tests the patience of the reader.