Excerpt from In the Kingdom of Ice by Hampton Sides, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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In the Kingdom of Ice

The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette

by Hampton Sides

In the Kingdom of Ice by Hampton Sides X
In the Kingdom of Ice by Hampton Sides
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2014, 480 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2015, 496 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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Dumbfounded by Tyson's story, Captain Bartlett welcomed the unfortunates to his ship, fed them a warm meal of codfish, potatoes, and coffee, and in due course delivered them to St. John's, Newfoundland, where they were met by a U.S. Navy vessel and taken straight to Washington. A hasty interrogation of Tyson and other survivors revealed, among other things, that the Polaris, though damaged, was likely still intact and that the balance of the expedition—fourteen members—might yet be alive, trapped on their leaky ship somewhere high in the Greenland ice. Naval authorities, after cross-examining the survivors, learned that the Polaris had suffered a crisis of leader- ship nearly from the start, that mutiny had been discussed, and that Charles Hall may indeed have been poisoned. (Nearly a century later, forensic experts exhumed his corpse and detected toxic quantities of arsenic in tissue samples.) Tyson, though refusing to name names, cried foul. "Those who have baffled and spoiled this expedition," he roared, "cannot escape their God!"

The American public, stunned by this woeful tale of a national voyage gone spectacularly wrong, clamored for a relief expedition to return to the Arctic to hunt for survivors. And so, with President Ulysses S. Grant's approval, the Navy promptly dispatched a ship, the USS Juniata, to Greenland to commence a search for the hobbled Polaris.

The Juniata,  under the command of Daniel L. Braine, was a battle-scabbed sloop of war that had seen much action in the Atlantic blockade during the Civil War. Newspapers across America celebrated her departure from New York on June 23. The Juniata's mission to Greenland had all the elements: Here was a thrilling rescue story of national import—and also a detective story, with a whiff of intrigue and possible murder. A correspondent from the New York Herald would be joining the Juniata at St. John's to report on the search. In large part because of the Herald 's presence, the hunt for the Polaris would become the sensation of the late summer of 1873.


THE SECOND-IN-COMMAND ABOARD the Juniata was a young lieutenant from New York City named George De Long. Twenty-eight years old, his keen blue-gray eyes framed by pince-nez glasses, De Long was a man in a hurry to do great things. He was large and broad-shouldered and weighed 195 pounds. A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, ginger-haired and fair-skinned, he had a shaggy mustache that drooped prodigiously over the corner creases of his mouth. Whenever he had a moment to sit, he could usually be found smoking a meerschaum pipe, his head buried in a book. The warmth of his smile and the softness of his fleshy face were offset by a certain truculence in his jawline, a feature observers often remarked upon. De Long was a determined, straight-ahead sort of man, efficient and thorough, and he burned with ambition. One of his expressions, a motto of sorts, was "Do it now."

De Long had sailed over much of the world—Europe, the Carib- bean, South America, and all along the Eastern Seaboard—but he had never been to the Arctic before, and he was not especially look- ing forward to the journey. De Long was far more accustomed to the tropics. He had never paid attention to the great quest for the North Pole, which had so ferociously preoccupied explorers like Hall and thrilled the public. To De Long, the Juniata's cruise to Greenland was just another assignment.

He did not seem to think much of St. John's, where the Juniata stopped to take on stores and where shipbuilders sheathed her bow in iron for the coming encounters with the ice. When the Juniata reached the  half-frozen hamlet of Sukkertoppen, on Greenland's southwestern coast, De Long wrote to his wife, "I never in my life saw such a dreary land of desolation and I hope I may never find myself cast away in such a perfectly God-forsaken place . . . The 'town,' such as it is, consists of two houses and about a dozen huts made of mud and wood. I went into one and have been scratching ever since."

Excerpted from In the Kingdom of Ice by Hampton Sides. Copyright © 2014 by Hampton Sides. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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