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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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De Long was positively smitten with his wife, Emma, a young French-American woman from Le Havre. He hated being so far away from her. He and Emma had been married for more than two years but had scarcely seen each other, for De Long's  Navy assignments had kept him almost constantly at sea. Sylvie, their baby girl, was nearly a stranger to him. The De Longs had a little apartment on Twenty-second Street in Manhattan, yet he was never there. Emma said her husband was a man "destined always to be separated from the ones he loved." There was not much he could do about his prolonged absences—this was the life of a career naval officer.

At times, though, De Long dreamed of taking a leave and living another kind of existence with Emma and Sylvie, somewhere in the American West, or in the countryside in the south of France. From Greenland, he wrote to Emma about his fantasy. "I cannot help thinking how much happier we should be if we were together," he said. "When we are apart I devise so many schemes . . . How nice it would be to go to some quiet place in Europe and pass a year by ourselves, where the Navy Department would not bother me with its orders, or any troubles come to make us uneasy. I think, darling, when I finish this cruise I might be able to get a year's absence and we might spend it together where it would not be expensive and have a little home of our own. Don't you think we could do that?"

De Long's disdain for the polar landscape soon wore off. As the Juniata  crossed the Arctic Circle and pressed ever farther up the ragged west coast of the world's largest island, something began to take hold of him. He became more and more intrigued by the Arctic, by its lonely grandeur, by its mirages and strange tricks of light, its mock moons and blood-red halos, its thick, misty atmospheres, which altered and magnified sounds, leaving the impression that one was living under a dome. He felt as though he were breathing rarefied air. He became intrigued by the phenomenon of the "ice blink," the spectral glow in the low sky that indicated the presence of a large frozen pack ahead. The scenery grew more impressive: ice-gouged fjords, towering bergs calved fresh from glaciers, the crisp sound of cold surf lapping against the pack, ringed seals peeking through gaps in the ice, bowhead whales spouting in the deep gray channel. This was the purest wilderness De Long had ever seen, and he began to fall in love with it.


BY LATE JULY, when the Juniata arrived at Disko Island, a wind- swept place of bubbling hot springs and Viking legends far up the coast of Greenland, De Long's baptism by ice was nearly complete. Dressed head to toe in furs and wearing sealskin boots, he had gotten into the swing of things. "We have taken on board twelve dogs for sleds," he wrote, "and we are now really worth looking at. The ship is black with dirt and coal dust, dogs packed away among the coal, sheep tied up forward and beef hanging around right and left with fish here and there. We are really in a good state to go anywhere."

As he continued northward, De Long found himself absorbed by the question of what had happened to Charles Francis Hall and his expedition. Where had it gone wrong? What decisions had led to its demise? Where was the Polaris now, and were there any survivors? As a Navy officer, he was intrigued by matters of hierarchy, discipline, and motivation—how an operation was organized, and how that organization might fall apart. De Long felt himself being pulled deeper into a mystery infinitely more interesting than the dreary duties of his ordinary life at sea.

On July 31, the Juniata arrived at the tiny ice-clogged village of Upernavik, four hundred miles above the Arctic Circle, and here the plot of this polar detective story began to thicken. De Long and Captain Braine went ashore to meet with a Danish official named Krarup Smith, the inspector royal of North Greenland. Inspector Smith had some interesting things to say about Charles Hall, who had stopped here with his entire expedition two years earlier, before disappearing in the High Arctic. Smith did not know where the Polaris was now, or whether there were any survivors, but he did offer one intriguing detail: Hall, he said, had had a presentiment of his own death.

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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