Summary and book reviews of In the Kingdom of Ice by Hampton Sides

In the Kingdom of Ice

The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette

by Hampton Sides

In the Kingdom of Ice
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Aug 2014, 480 pages
    May 2015, 496 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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Book Summary

New York Times bestselling author Hampton Sides returns with a white-knuckle tale of polar exploration and survival in the Gilded Age. Winner of the 2014 BookBrowse Award for Nonfiction.

Winner of the 2014 BookBrowse Award for Nonfiction

New York Times bestselling author Hampton Sides returns with a white-knuckle tale of polar exploration and survival in the Gilded Age

In the late nineteenth century, people were obsessed by one of the last unmapped areas of the globe: the North Pole. No one knew what existed beyond the fortress of ice rimming the northern oceans, although theories abounded. The foremost cartographer in the world, a German named August Petermann, believed that warm currents sustained a verdant island at the top of the world. National glory would fall to whoever could plant his flag upon its shores.

James Gordon Bennett, the eccentric and stupendously wealthy owner of The New York Herald, had recently captured the world's attention by dispatching Stanley to Africa to find Dr. Livingstone. Now he was keen to re-create that sensation on an even more epic scale. So he funded an official U.S. naval expedition to reach the Pole, choosing as its captain a young officer named George Washington De Long, who had gained fame for a rescue operation off the coast of Greenland. De Long led a team of 32 men deep into uncharted Arctic waters, carrying the aspirations of a young country burning to become a world power. On July 8, 1879, the USS Jeannette set sail from San Francisco to cheering crowds in the grip of "Arctic Fever."

The ship sailed into uncharted seas, but soon was trapped in pack ice. Two years into the harrowing voyage, the hull was breached. Amid the rush of water and the shrieks of breaking wooden boards, the crew abandoned the ship. Less than an hour later, the Jeannette sank to the bottom,and the men found themselves marooned a thousand miles north of Siberia with only the barest supplies. Thus began their long march across the endless ice - a frozen hell in the most lonesome corner of the world. Facing everything from snow blindness and polar bears to ferocious storms and frosty labyrinths, the expedition battled madness and starvation as they desperately strove for survival.

With twists and turns worthy of a thriller, In The Kingdom of Ice is a spellbinding tale of heroism and determination in the most unforgiving territory on Earth.

Prologue : Baptism by Ice

On a misty morning in late April 1873, the Tigress, a steam barkentine out of Conception Bay, Newfoundland, was pushing through the loose floes and bergs off the coast of Labrador, heading for the seasonal seal-hunting grounds. Late in the morning, the Tigress encountered something strange: A lone Inuit in a kayak was hailing the ship, waving his arms and screaming at the top of his lungs. The native man was clearly in some kind of trouble. He had ventured much farther out into the perilous open waters of the North Atlantic than any Eskimo ordinarily would. When the Tigress pulled closer to him, he yelled, in accented English, "American steamer! American steamer!"

The crew of the Tigress leaned over the railings and tried to decipher what the Inuit was talking about. Just then, the fog parted enough to reveal, in the middle distance, a jagged floe piece, on which more than a dozen men and women, plus several children, appeared to be trapped. Seeing the ...

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The book is obviously well-researched; the author goes well beyond studying materials others have collected, choosing to travel to the most remote locales mentioned in the story and obtaining source material (much of it previously unknown) directly from modern-day relatives of those involved. Sides' first-hand knowledge of the environs provides another layer of authenticity to an already exceptionally well-written narrative.   (Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

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Media Reviews

Boston Globe - Matthew Price

Sides works story-telling magic as he evokes the pathos and suffering of what unfolded: De Long and his crew endured hardships that boggle the mind [but] at times, Sides’ account bogs down with background and build up to the main event; he perhaps overdoes it with melodrama.

Minneapolis Star-Tribune

Exhaustively researched and brilliantly written, “In the Kingdom of the Ice” is the work of a top-notch historian and storyteller. Readers braced for its hardships are in for a great read.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. A grand and grim narrative of thrilling exploration for fans of Into Thin Air, Mountains of the Moon and the like.

Author Blurb Caroline Alexander, New York Times bestselling author of The Endurance and TheBounty
The reader is drawn into the ice from the first page and will not want to leave until the fate of every man is known

Author Blurb Nathaniel Philbrick, New York Times bestselling author of In the Heart of the Sea, Bunker Hill and Sea of Glory
Hampton Sides has written a dazzling page-turner.  Full of unforgettable characters and vividly described scenes, In the Kingdom of Ice breathes fresh, exuberant, and very personal life into the polar adventure story that once riveted the world.

Author Blurb Candice Millard, New York Times bestselling author of The Destiny of the Republic  and The River of Doubt
This is an astonishingly good story, told by one of the best storytellers of our age. Alone, the tale of the USS Jeannette is darkly gripping. In the hands of Hampton Sides, it is impossible to put down, packed with irresistible characters and incredible moments of horror and heroism. As soon as I finished it, I flipped to the first page and began reading it again.

Author Blurb David Grann, New York Times bestselling author of The Lost City of Z
Hampton Sides masterfully recounts one of the greatest and most harrowing adventures of all time. In the Kingdom of Ice is a spellbinding tale not only of a journey into the Arctic but also into the very nature of man.

Author Blurb Mark Bowden, New York Times Bestselling author of Black Hawk Down
Hampton Sides is a master storyteller, and here he has delivered a stunningly vivid account of perhaps the most dramatic polar mission you never heard of. Once you start, you won't stop.

Author Blurb Ian Frazier, National Bestselling author of Travels in Siberia and On the Rez
Read this book in two ways-- fast, for the hair-raising excitement of what happens to the brave men of the Jeannette, and then slowly, to take in the clarity of the writing and the unshowy elegance of the structure. The grand disaster that befell this expedition, and the heroic, truly Siberian sufferings of Captain De Long and his comrades, have found a brilliant chronicler in Hampton Sides.

Author Blurb T.J. Stiles, Pulitzer Prize winning author of The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt
With colorful characters and rich research distilled into gripping suspense, In the Kingdom of Ice gives us a fascinating but little-known slice of American history that resonates strongly amid our contemporary discussions of climate change. Here is a vivid tale of exploration set in a howling, deadly wilderness.

Author Blurb Scott Anderson, New York Times bestselling author of Lawrence in Arabia
"Hampton Sides is one of America's most expansive and engaging storytellers, and he proves it again with the incredible saga of the USS Jeannette. In The Kingdom of Ice is far more than the tale of a polar expedition gone awry. Sides has brought together an absolutely marvelous cast of characters – daring and dangerous and more than a little preposterous  – to tell not just a classic adventure story, but to shine a fine light on that bizarre American era known as the Gilded Age. All works of history should be half this much fun.

Author Blurb S.C. Gwynne, New York Times bestselling author of Empire of the Summer Moon and Rebel Yell
Hampton Sides has written an arctic thriller, an authentic narrative masterpiece that I put down only reluctantly and willingly gave up sleep in order to finish. I had to find out what happened to these remarkable men in that wide and desolate sea of ice.

Author Blurb Mitchell Zuckoff, New York Times bestselling author of Frozen in Time and Lost in Shangri-La.
Hampton Sides' many gifts include his ability to make readers feel the bracing cold of Arctic winds and the smoldering heat of separated lovers. This extraordinary book overflows with heroic characters and bursts with insight into a young nation flexing its ambitions on a global scale. The result is narrative nonfiction history at its very best.

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The Two North Poles

In the Kingdom of Ice concerns an ill-fated 19th century expedition to the North Pole.

There are actually two North Poles — a geographic North Pole and a magnetic one. The geographic North Pole is recognized as the northernmost point on the earth's surface, and is the axis point around which the earth spins. It's 450 miles north of Greenland in the middle of the Arctic Ocean.

The magnetic North Pole is approximately 100 miles south of the geographic pole and due north of Canada's Sverdrup Island. It is not fixed and moves on a daily basis; it was first recorded in 1831 hundreds of miles from its current location (82.7° North & 114.4° West in 2005). Because of this, compasses must be regularly adjusted to take into ...

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