The Ice Master: The Doomed 1913 Voyage of the Karluk by Jennifer Niven
I find polar exploration tales fascinating, and have read a lot of them. There have been many books written about the Shackleton expedition (see some of my favorites listed below), but much less contemporary attention has been paid to the voyage of the Karluk.
Possible spoiler alert: It’s easy to understand way; the Shackleton story is astonishing and inspiring; while they don’t succeed in reaching the expedition goals they survive under incredible circumstances. The Karluk also fails to reach its expedition goals, but it does not succeed in bringing everyone back home alive.
I appreciated how Niven pieces together the events. I especially appreciated how Niven includes information on what happened afterwards to the survivors.
I’m hesitant to say a lot more; I don’t want to give away too much, but it’s a gripping tale that makes me very very thankful I’m safe and warm and not trapped in the ice on a sinking ship. Or struggling to survive in the Arctic.
The Karluk set out in 1913 in search of an undiscovered continent, with the largest scientific staff ever sent into the Arctic. Soon after, winter had begun, they were blown off course by polar storms, the ship became imprisoned in ice, and the expedition was abandoned by its leader. Hundreds of miles from civilization, the castaways had no choice but to find solid ground as they struggled against starvation, snow blindness, disease, exposure and each other. After almost twelve months battling the elements, twelve survivors were rescued, thanks to the heroic efforts of their captain, Bartlett, the Ice Master, who traveled by foot across the ice and through Siberia to find help. Drawing on the diaries of those who were rescued and those who perished, Jennifer Niven re-creates with astonishing accuracy the ill-fated journey and the crews desperate attempts to find a way home.
If you like Niven’s writing, she’s also written Ada BlackJack: A True Story of Survival in the Arctic. It’s on my list, but I haven’t gotten to it yet. It details events that take place after the Karluk voyage (and includes at least one person who survived that expedition), so if you’re a stickler for the order in which you read books, you may want to read this one after The Ice Master.
If you find the polar-survival aspect intriguing, there are several excellent books about the Shackleton expedition: Endurance by F. A. Worsley, and Caroline Alexander’s The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition has stunning photographs, and her child’s/young adult title Mrs. Chippy’s Last Expedition: The Remarkable Journal of Shackleton’s Polar-Bound Cat is an amusing perspective on events. I’ve read all three of these, and enjoyed them all; despite covering the same topic, they were all different enough that it didn’t feel like I was reading the same book over and over.
To see all the books featured in 31 Days of Great Nonfiction Reads, go to the series page.
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