Historians still ponder the question of whether either explorers Robert E. Peary or Dr. Frederick A. Cook reached the North Pole! It remains a debatable point among scientists and historians but after reading Peary’s unabridged personal account, The NORTH POLE first published in 1910, I am in no mood to quibble. Peary’s detailed narrative and the presence of his esteemed scientific team is most convincing. The volume includes his own multiple detailed calculations of April 6, 1909 offering his proof of success.
The NORTH POLE is more than a story of the attainment itself but offers insight into the determination of a man who on four previous attempts failed to reach his goal. Then in 1908 at age fifty-two, he again set forth for the Arctic aboard the Roosevelt, a specifically designed ship for approaching the Polar Ice Cap. The expedition was backed by a group of wealthy supporters under the banner of the Peary Arctic Club with the full-throated endorsement of President Theodore Roosevelt.
Peary’s detailed narrative offers the reader great insight into the Inuit natives of northern Greenland. By befriending the Inuits on his previous four sojourns to the north he acquired the expertise to survive in the Arctic. Attaining the pole would never have been possible without the knowledge of the Inuit and their dogs. Four Inuits were with Peary when the prize was won. Dozens of others made up the advance support parties establishing igloo supply camps across nearly 400 miles of treacherous ice under the most formidable conditions anywhere on planet earth.
The controversy surrounding Peary’s conquering the North Pole remains. You may draw your own conclusions. However, for the reader of this epic story of man against nature, standing upon actual true north is almost irrelevant to the complexities and heroism of the journey.
If Arctic exploration is of interest to you I also highly recommend another book on an earlier North Pole attempt, Hampton Sides Into The Kingdom of Ice. ( See gordonsgoodreads.com) If you travel to Maine and seek further insight into Peary, a trip to Peary’s home on Eagle Island, reached by ferry-boat from Freeport, is a very worthwhile visit. Peary is a Bowdoin College graduate and moved to Maine from Pennsylvania in his youth. There is also an excellent Peary Museum on the Bowdoin Campus.
Note: While reading The NORTH POLE I found it most helpful to Google a detailed map of Ellesmere Island and Northern Greenland. A map, which is not included in the book, adds tremendous perspective to Peary’s narrative.
Forget for a moment the doomed 1937 round the world flight and all of the continuing speculation that continues to this day. Set aside temporarily that Earhart was the first woman to solo across the Atlantic. Put in perspective all of her pioneering accomplishments as the world’s most prominent woman in aviation. Then settle in to read this marvelous perspective of a truly remarkable person.
Biographer Susan Butler got the Amelia Earhart story right in 1997 when she completed ten years of research and published EAST to the Dawn, The Life of Amelia Earhart. It was the sixtieth anniversary of Earhart’s fateful last flight. Of course the aviation story is extremely well told but the real story is how Amelia Earhart used her celebrity and incredible energy to universally advance the cause of women during the 1920s and 1930s.
Amelia the social worker, the world-wide lecturer on behalf of women’s rights and the establishment at Perdue University of a permanent foundation designed to advance women in the profession of aviation engineering and development. One can only imagine her further impact had not her life ended in tragedy somewhere in the Pacific trying desperately to find tiny Howland Island on the next to last leg of her round the world flight.
Amelia Earhart’s celebrity was earned. She came from Atkinson Kansas, the daughter of an alcoholic father whose many jobs took the family east and west. Her formal education was thwarted but she persisted, became a social worker and by sheer chance became exposed to aviation. Once hooked she never looked back. All along her rise to unimaginable celebrity she never once forgot that she represented professional career opportunities for all women.
Amelia earned her just celebrity and acclaim as an aviator but had she lived, understanding her as Butler’s book reflects, her contributions to society and women’s advancement would have been far greater than being the first woman to fly around the globe. Having read Butler’s book I am convinced Amelia Earhart would have unquestionably made that her lasting legacy.
In 1932 the American Women’s Association presented Margaret Sanger its first annual award. A year later the second annual award was presented to Amelia. The presentation to Amelia was made by Dr. Lillian Gilbreth, the renowned industrial psychologist. In her closing remarks, Gilbreth chose these words: Miss Earhart has shown us that all God’s chillun got wings.
This is the 80th anniversary of Amelia Earhart’s last flight.
David Grann’s extraordinarily researched work of non-fiction, Killers of the Flower Moon, The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, details yet another contemptible and murderous abuse of Native Americas. The killing of many dozens of Osage Indians in Osage County, Oklahoma were conceived and carried out by the white establishment over a period of two murderous decades. The motive? A common theme of greed, in this case stealing from the Osage the mineral rights to the booming oil field discovered on their reservation in the early 1900s.
When J. Edgar Hoover was first named head of what was later to become the Federal Bureau of Investigation he prioritized the solving of the Osage Indian murders and turned to Texas Ranger Tom White to lead the investigation. The details of this tragedy are shocking. It was a conspiracy the specific purpose of which was to kill Osage and their descendants in order to steal the valuable mineral rights that had made the Osage among the wealthiest per capita people in America. Local law enforcement was major part of the conspiracy.
Grann spares no detail in uncovering the horror of this injustice. The accolades he has received from the literary community speak to the importance of this work. High praise from Jon Krakauer, Erik Larsen, John Grisham and S.C. Gwynne.
David Grann also authored The Lost City of Z and The Devil and Sherlock Holmes.
Hampton Sides, author of Ghost Soldier and Blood and Thunder has impeccably researched and brilliantly written the saga of the ill-fated North Pole quest of the USS Jeannette. In The Kingdom of Ice is an adventure narrative that keeps the reader gripped to the pages throughout the journey. If you have read the story of Ernest Shackleton’s expedition with the ship Endurance you will be astounded by the incredible story of George De Long and his ship the Jeannette.
Within these pages, author Sides unfolds the parallel story of James Gordon Bennett Jr , owner of the New York Herald, adding historical dimension to this work of non-fiction. Publisher Bennett, always seeking ways to dramatically promote his newspaper’s circulation , stepped forward to underwrite the entire cost of De Long’s quest for the North Pole. Bennett was the same publisher who sent Stanley to find Livingstone, thought to be lost in the depths of Africa. That story, as would coverage of the fate of the Jeannette, became a sensation as it unfolded in the pages of the Herald.
I recommend this read with great enthusiasm. You will be unable to leave these pages until the fate of every man who sailed aboard the Jeannette is known.
Hillbilly Elegy, a memoir written by J.D. Vance , is a brisk read that has established itself on the New York Times Best Seller List. The book is a captivating personal story with a broad reach into class distinctions within American society. Vance extends the hillbilly narrative beyond the hollers of his Kentucky heritage.
I am reminded of two similar memoirs, Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle and Tobias Wolff’s This Boy’s Life. I would not attempt a ranking here but the status of Wall’s book as a best seller in this genre speaks for itself. Time will tell if Hillbilly Elegy has similar staying power.
J.D Vance’s personal story is a narrative of a culture that few American’s know or understand. It’s impact is broadened because it is contemporary and opens a greater understanding of the polemic in which the country finds itself today.
Narrated with shocking honesty, Vance’s story took great courage to tell. It is deserving of your summer reading list.
J.D. Vance is a graduate of Yale Law School and is an Investment Banker in San Francisco.
SHATTERED is certainly a read for enthusiasts of political intrigue. SHATTERED is not of the calibre of the late Richard Ben Cramer’s WHAT IT TAKES or political writers Caro, Goodwin or Meacham. However, Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes tell an insightful story of the disastrous 2016 Hillary Clinton campaign for the presidency. The book raises a fundamental question of whether Hillary lost the election at the hand of herself and her organization.
A fundamental paradox raised throughout the book is the modern campaign issue of analytics and algorithms versus street level political acumen and gut feeling. Just as the media projections of the 2016 election failed because of too much reliance on polling numbers, the direction of Clinton’s campaign fell upon the same sword.
The writing in SHATTERED casts a broader picture of the campaign than just the numbers. It tells of infighting, sycophants, personalities, favorites and internal power struggles.
Why did Hillary fail in what many considered an easy win against Donald Trump ? SHATTERED offers some answers.
This well researched work of non-fiction is an important read for those with a keen interest in the great Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce and the attendant story line of Native Americans and the Nez Perce War. Equally important, Daniel Sharfstein’s THUNDER in the MOUNTAINS places the story of the Nez Perce in an even broader historical context.
THUNDER in the MOUNTAINS carefully constructs the protracted efforts by Chief Joseph and U.S. Army General Oliver Otis Howard to avoid what became the last of the great Indian Wars of the 1870s. Following his participation in the Civil War, General Howard was named head of the Freedman’s Bureau and placed in charge of bringing the 4-million newly emancipated slaves under the protection of U.S. Citizenship. Howard, possessed of a substantial ego , was shattered when much of the blame of the failure of the Freedman’s Bureau was placed at his feet.
Upon his election, President Grant sent Howard to the Northwest to negotiate with Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce bands that as the last hold outs had refused to give up their native lands and move to government Indian Reservations.
The author brilliantly defines Chief Joseph’s character and intellect and the melancholy of chief’s arguments having no bearing on the outcome for the Nez Perce. “All I ask is that my people be treated as U.S. citizens and have the same rights under the laws to pursue our rightful ownership of our home lands.”
As is my custom in this space I will leave the details of the story and the saga’s tragic ending to the telling of the author and the absorption of his readers. ” I will fight no more forever.”
As you read THUNDER in the MOUNTAINS keep in mind the parallels between emancipation and the disposition of the Native Americans and how badly the U.S. Government failed on both counts. I applaud Sharfstein for the literary manner in which he has merged these monumental epics in American History.
Also by Daniel Sharfstein: The Invisible Line, A Secret History of Race in America
I also highly recommend THE NEZ PERCE INDIANS AND THE OPENING OF THE NORTHWEST by Alvin M. Josephy, Jr.