Summary and book reviews of The Ghosts of Cape Sabine by Leonard Guttridge

The Ghosts of Cape Sabine

The Harrowing True Story of the Greely Expedition

By Leonard Guttridge

The Ghosts of Cape Sabine
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  • Hardcover: Feb 2000,
    368 pages.
    Paperback: Nov 2000,
    374 pages.

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Book Summary

"Most of us are out of our right minds. I fear for the future." --Lt. Adolphus Greely

Twenty-five men went north. Only six returned alive.

In July 1881, an expedition comprised mainly of American soldiers sailed off to establish a scientific base in the remote Arctic region of Lady Franklin Bay. What happened then is a remarkable three-year saga of human achievement and human fallibility, of heroism, hardship, bad luck and worse judgment. Compounded by deliberate political negligence back home, particularly on the part of Secretary of War Robert Todd Lincoln, son of the late president, and increasingly fierce dissension in its own camp, the expedition's fate, and those of its would-be rescuers, would eventually encompass starvation, mutiny, suicide, shipwreck, execution . . . and cannibalism.

Until now, the story has been only partly known and full of dark riddles, but more than seven years of research by acclaimed historian Leonard Guttridge have uncovered journals, letters, diaries, and other documentary material that for the first time provide intimate day-by-day details of the swirling thoughts, feelings, and events of that ill-fated voyage--from turbulent birth to bizarre and tragic finale. The result is a work of nonfiction narrative that reads like a novel--a raw, vivid, harrowing adventure, brilliantly told.

Prologue

"Most of us are out of our right minds. I fear for the future."- Lieutenant Adolphus Greely

It was 18 September, 1883. Twenty-five men huddled in their sleeping bags on an ice floe grinding erratically through the shifting ice and swirling currents of the Arctic's Kane Basin. They were the men of the Lady Franklin Bay Expedition, sent north to establish a base for scientific exploration and observation, and now engaged in a fight for their lives.

The expedition had had a turbulent birth, marked by scandal and political infighting in Washington, D.C., where the Secretary of War, Robert Todd Lincoln, son of the late president, had shown marked antipathy to the whole project. As a result, when the approval finally had come, the expedition had had to assemble in haste, and it showed, from the equipment to the ships to the personnel, a group composed primarily of Army Signal Corps soldiers with no experience in the Arctic.

Once up at Lady Franklin Bay, the personality ...

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Reviews

Media Reviews
The Washington Post

'Ghosts of Cape Sabine,' which moves with the pace and texture of a finely tuned novel, deserves to become a classic in the literature of exploration. Reading it, you can practically feel the chill, hear the ice floes grinding against one another in the long winter night.

The Atlantic Monthly

Mr. Guttridge's pursuit of records, letters, and diaries has enabled him to reconstruct the whole story, and it is as fascinating and exciting story as any adventure novel.

Salon.com

Guttridge's account - vivid in its whiteness and raw in its themes - is a thriller.

Publishers Weekly

Guttridge delves too deeply into the details of bureaucratic infighting and provisioning and fails to successfully evoke the rigors and beauties of the Arctic climate. He relies heavily on the words that the officers and men wrote in their journals, which give readers a sense of the inexorable breakdown of discipline and morale in the face of poor leadership, but don't offer any lingering sense of the men who wrote them or of the conditions to which they ultimately succumbed.

Booklist

Guttridge narrates fluidly and pointedly and will easily net aficionados of adventure and disaster tales.

Reader Reviews
Anonymous
Karen Lachenmeyer Keeley
This was the first and only book I had read on the Greeley Expedition and
was thoroughly captivated until the very end. One of my ancestors, Henry
Biederbick was a survivor of the expedition. As a child I was told that
one ...   Read More

Anonymous
Thetis
I have read many books on the subject of The Greely Expedition, but this book is paramount in its detail and accuracy. My great uncle was a volunteer on the Thetis, the ship that rescued the Greely party. My name is Thetis, named for this ship....   Read More

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