Ninety Degrees North: The Quest for the North Pole.

This is a fairly standard account of high Arctic exploration, well-written and readable but offering little by way of new insights into the phenomenon. Chiefly deals with British and American explorers, but includes Nansen, Andree and others.

p. 5, on Franklin’s provisions for the expedition: Franklin departed with two of the Royal Navy’s finest ice ships, whose screw propellers were powered by locomotive engines of trusted design. He had food for seven years, silver cutlery and 1,000 bound editions of Punch.

p. 62, Isaac Hayes on the very overloaded United States: ‘The cabin is flooded at least a dozen times a day.’ His precious library of Arctic reference works spent more time sloshing along the deck than they did on their shelves.

p. 70: His [Hayes] other ideas for entertainment fell equally short of the mark. A newspaper, The Port Foulkes Weekly News, came out on 10 November to great excitement, the men reporting on city news, weather bulletins, ‘foreign intelligence’ and society clips. To announce its publication one of the youngest officers, the eighteen-year-old George Knorr, gave a rousing speech before the entire ship’s company. ‘We must carry [the American boundary] to the very Pole itself!’ he said. ‘And there, sir, we will nail the Stars and Stripes, and our flag-staff will become the spindle of the world, and the Universal Yankee Nation will go swirling round it like a top.’

The thrill soon wore off and The Port Foulkes Weekly News, which had never contained any news, never became weekly either. Hayes had also planned a series of theatrical events but these did not materialize. The crew could not be bothered and neither could he. Without saying why, he declared it ‘impossible.’ They settled down to a monotony of tasks whose meaningless was aggravated by the twenty-four-hour Arctic night.

p. 93, claims that Congress bought 15,000 copies of Kane’s Arctic Explorationsfor its library, presumably for its exchange program.

p. 96, voyage of Petermann and Koldewey on Germaniawith the Hansain 1869: Reading and re-rereading all the Arctic literature aboard, they wondered what conditions would be like.

p. 103, Paul Hegemann, commander of the Hansa before it was wrecked: “Hegemann’s books, which were all they had to go by, offered no solace. ‘The experience of former Greenland captains, who had got on the ice on the Greenland coast, told us that their vessels had gone to the bottom,’ Hegemann recited, ‘and the men had been sometimes lost, and sometimes saved in the boats, after frightful difficulties and dangers, by reaching an Esquimaux settlement on the south-west coast.’ It had even happened to Germans. The Wilhelmine from Pexel had gone down in 1777: there it was, on page 37 of Lindemann’s Arctic Fishery in black and white.

p. 105, drifting on ice floes after their separation from the Germania, and feeling profligate about supplies from the Hansa: Hegemann’s mirror was thrown aside and its gilt frame fed to the stove. Their Arctic library was stuffed in after it.

p. 167, about the 1875-76 Nares expedition: Kane’s, Hayes’s and Hall’s journals had all described the monotony of an Arctic winter—a monotony which had possibly been their undoing—and Nares was not going to let his men drift the same way. A skating rink was cleared, firework displays were held, boxing matches were staged and evening classes were arranged. A newspaper was organized by Pelham Aldrich and every week there were ‘Thursday Pops’, semi-educational entertainments which comprised songs, readings and tableaux.

p. 172, Moss on monotony: ‘Nothing can exceed the monotony of sledge-travelling. Day after day the same routine is gone through, day after day the same endless ice is the only thing in sight.’

p. 219, with the Jeannette in difficulties and De Long and Danenhauer uneasy with each other: [De Long] kept the men on low rations because, from Weyprecht’s Journal, “part of the library which Bennett had supplied him—he knew how long it might take to cover the shortest distance.

p. 225, after the Jeannette sank and the men had set out for the Lena Delta: Everything that could be abandoned was abandoned. But they could not persuade De Long to give up his maps and journals, which were preserved in a heavy, watertight chest. On this point he was adamant. His expedition might be ridiculed but he would not lower it to Franklin’s standard; he would never have rescuers wandering Siberia in search of remains, relics and records and then quibbling over what he had or had not achieved. Everything was to be kept on paper, so that future explorers could benefit and his wife could be proud of him. Lugging De Long’s box of books, and a roll of maps that was five feet long, they pushed deeper into the Siberian tundra.

p. 229, when Boyd of De Long’s lost party died: In his hands he held Iveson’s psalm book, with its inscription: ‘Presented by the California Evangelical Society for Foreigners’.” Melville found his maps and journals nearby.

p. 233: cites William F. Warren’s Paradise Found (1885) with his hollow earth where the Garden of Eden would be found.

p. 243, on Nansen’s drift with the Fram: Nansen tried to organize a shipboard paper but it fizzled out after eight issues. The men were just not interested. They were happy to lie back and—apart from the odd fight—to enjoy the peace. After all, it wasn’t often that they had the chance to be well-fed, well-lit (by electricity) and well-paidfor doing nothing. If they needed intellectual stimulus there was the Fram’s 600-volume library which contained works by all the latest Scandinavian writers, as well as Jules Verne’s novel Captain Hatteras, in which a bold captain and his crew sailed, as they were doing, towards the mysteries of the Pole. Fleming gives no sources about the library or its contents..

p. 259, with Nansen on Fram: They did a number of mindless things. They read Nansen’s navigation tables and almanac until they were sick of them—and then read them again for ‘the sight of the printed letters gave one the feeling that there was, after all, a little bit of civilized man left’. [Fleming reference is to Nansen, Farthest North, II, p. 395.]

p. 302-03, gives an account of the sale of the Inuit meteorites to the Smithsonian, of Inuit who lived in the Museums’ basement dying and the father’s bones reassembled for display at the AMNH. Little of this matches my recollection of original arrangements with AMNH and should be checked.

p. 308, Peary at Fort Conger in 1898: on the walls of Fort Conger he inscribed a quotation from Seneca: ‘Inveniam viam aut faciam’ —Find a way or make one’.

p. 419-23, an epilogue summarizing the post-polar fates of several explorers in depression and penury. Claims that Emma De Long was the only one to escape that fate and remained optimistic until her death in 1940.