An outstanding account of a great expedition led by “a child prodigy who died before his full genius could flower.”

INTO THE GREAT EMPTINESS

PERIL AND SURVIVAL ON THE GREENLAND ICE CAP

The late, prolific adventure writer returns with a fresh account of an epic yet little-known Arctic expedition.

Polar explorers Robert Falcon Scott, Roald Amundsen, and Ernest Shackleton are household names, but Henry George “Gino” Watkins (1907-1932) rings few bells. In this fascinating biography, Roberts (1943-2021) points out that, unlike his predecessors, Watkins was neither a military man nor a seasoned traveler. Rather, he was a carefree Cambridge student fond of risky antics and mountain climbing but no expert explorer. Inspired by a Cambridge don who had traveled with Scott and Shackleton in the Antarctic, Watkins decided to explore the Arctic. Dropping out, he led a 1927 expedition to a poorly explored island in the Svalbard archipelago, north of Norway, and to Labrador a year later. Despite his youth, he turned out to be a good leader. Building on these successes, he organized and led the British Arctic Air Route Expedition of 1930-1931, aiming to survey the obscure east coast of Greenland and gather climate data to plan a shorter air route to North America. By this time, others had crossed the island, but no one had overwintered in Greenland’s unspeakably cold, stormy interior. Roberts devotes most of his book to a gripping account of this expedition, with equally fine asides on Greenland’s history and Indigenous inhabitants. Despite the usual mishaps, the men accomplished many of their goals. They established a weather station 140 miles inland, although reaching it proved far more difficult than anticipated, and occupants spent frightening weeks waiting for relief. One man volunteered to spend the entire winter; by spring, his tent was sealed under 20 feet of icy snow, and the relief expedition did not find it until it was nearly too late. Ultimately, everyone returned to wide acclaim. Watkins drowned during a 1932 expedition, but Roberts blames his obscurity on the fact that he left no popular writing, never sought fame, achieved no iconic discoveries, and experienced no disasters.

An outstanding account of a great expedition led by “a child prodigy who died before his full genius could flower.”

Pub Date: July 12, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-393-86811-1

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2022

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A rousing, suspenseful adventure tale.

MADHOUSE AT THE END OF THE EARTH

THE BELGICA'S JOURNEY INTO THE DARK ANTARCTIC NIGHT

A harrowing expedition to Antarctica, recounted by Departures senior features editor Sancton, who has reported from every continent on the planet.

On Aug. 16, 1897, the steam whaler Belgica set off from Belgium with young  Adrien de Gerlache as commandant. Thus begins Sancton’s riveting history of exploration, ingenuity, and survival. The commandant’s inexperienced, often unruly crew, half non-Belgian, included scientists, a rookie engineer, and first mate Roald Amundsen, who would later become a celebrated polar explorer. After loading a half ton of explosive tonite, the ship set sail with 23 crew members and two cats. In Rio de Janeiro, they were joined by Dr. Frederick Cook, a young, shameless huckster who had accompanied Robert Peary as a surgeon and ethnologist on an expedition to northern Greenland. In Punta Arenas, four seamen were removed for insubordination, and rats snuck onboard. In Tierra del Fuego, the ship ran aground for a while. Sancton evokes a calm anxiety as he chronicles the ship’s journey south. On Jan. 19, 1898, near the South Shetland Islands, the crew spotted the first icebergs. Rough waves swept someone overboard. Days later, they saw Antarctica in the distance. Glory was “finally within reach.” The author describes the discovery and naming of new lands and the work of the scientists gathering specimens. The ship continued through a perilous, ice-littered sea, as the commandant was anxious to reach a record-setting latitude. On March 6, the Belgica became icebound. The crew did everything they could to prepare for a dark, below-freezing winter, but they were wracked with despair, suffering headaches, insomnia, dizziness, and later, madness—all vividly capture by Sancton. The sun returned on July 22, and by March 1899, they were able to escape the ice. With a cast of intriguing characters and drama galore, this history reads like fiction and will thrill fans of Endurance and In the Kingdom of Ice.

A rousing, suspenseful adventure tale.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-984824-33-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 30, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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Unsentimental nature writing that sheds as much light on humans as on eels.

THE BOOK OF EELS

OUR ENDURING FASCINATION WITH THE MOST MYSTERIOUS CREATURE IN THE NATURAL WORLD

An account of the mysterious life of eels that also serves as a meditation on consciousness, faith, time, light and darkness, and life and death.

In addition to an intriguing natural history, Swedish journalist Svensson includes a highly personal account of his relationship with his father. The author alternates eel-focused chapters with those about his father, a man obsessed with fishing for this elusive creature. “I can’t recall us ever talking about anything other than eels and how to best catch them, down there by the stream,” he writes. “I can’t remember us speaking at all….Because we were in…a place whose nature was best enjoyed in silence.” Throughout, Svensson, whose beat is not biology but art and culture, fills his account with people: Aristotle, who thought eels emerged live from mud, “like a slithering, enigmatic miracle”; Freud, who as a teenage biologist spent months in Trieste, Italy, peering through a microscope searching vainly for eel testes; Johannes Schmidt, who for two decades tracked thousands of eels, looking for their breeding grounds. After recounting the details of the eel life cycle, the author turns to the eel in literature—e.g., in the Bible, Rachel Carson’s Under the Sea Wind, and Günter Grass’ The Tin Drum—and history. He notes that the Puritans would likely not have survived without eels, and he explores Sweden’s “eel coast” (what it once was and how it has changed), how eel fishing became embroiled in the Northern Irish conflict, and the importance of eel fishing to the Basque separatist movement. The apparent return to life of a dead eel leads Svensson to a consideration of faith and the inherent message of miracles. He warns that if we are to save this fascinating creature from extinction, we must continue to study it. His book is a highly readable place to begin learning.

Unsentimental nature writing that sheds as much light on humans as on eels.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-296881-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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