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Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Reader's Diary #1343- Peter Steele: The Man Who Mapped the Arctic

Coinciding with first moving to the Arctic 15 years ago, I went through a phase of reading about Northern explorers, the search for the Northwest Passage, and conquest of the North Pole. After a while though, you realize that the same themes prevail: it was treacherous and in hindsight, many people made a lot of mistakes, the most common of which was to ignore the wisdom of those that already lived here, the indigenous people.

To that end, The Man Who Mapped the Arctic, the story of explorer and sometimes Franklin lieutenant, George Black, doesn't add anything new. Still, if you've not read a northern explorer book before, or if it's been a while, it's as good as any. You'll still be awe of the stamina and bravery of such men, even if simultaneously throwing up your hands at their arrogance and, even fatal, racism. George Black is not particularly interesting; at least as far as any 1800s northern explorer could be boring, he doesn't really stand out. As writer Peter Steele points out, history often forgets those who didn't die in tragic or mysterious circumstance, and that's true here. The title seems to suggest Back's importance as a cartographer, but I'm now left questioning if it wasn't a publisher's decision, trying to give Back a new angle among such books. Sure his map mapping was impressive and added to the body of northern knowledge, but it's barely mentioned in the book, certainly not comprising a central thesis.

So why Back? I'm left to conclude that Franklin's story has been told ad nauseam and Back kept a lot of notes.

1 comment:

  1. I can't resist polar exploration myself! I've read so many books about the expeditions to both poles that I actively gave it up at one point. But I still can't pass up a new one when I see it. Will have to keep this in mind. I guess it's the ultimate survival story of them that attracts me so much; though there are often enough not many survivors.

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