Sunday, October 28, 2007

Weekend reading

Just finished reading Bruce Henderson's 2005 book, True North: Peary, Cook, and the Race to the Pole. While more of an Antarctica nut (the Southern Hemisphere thing), I'll still read anything to do with snowy, cold, arduous, polar adventure. And this tale is no exception.

Must admit, I was completely ignorant of the race for the North Pole, or the "Big Nail" as it was named by the Eskimo tribes of Greenland. And this is a sadder race than most, with what appears to be a rewrite of history that seems fairly widely accepted now, that Dr. Frederick A. Cook did reach the North Pole first, and that Robert Peary may not even have done so at all.

On his return, Cook was asked, if deep down in his heart did he believe he had made his goal, and whether he had indeed set his foot right on the North Pole. His response made me smile: "Oh, I couldn't say that. I got to where there wasn't any latitude."

The saddest part of the entire tale is not only the behaviour of Peary during and after his last attempt for what he considered was rightfully only his to attain, but the despicable behaviour of his financial backers, his sponsors, who we know so well nowadays as pretty well integral to any modern expedition. Nothing was different even in the early twentieth century. Those businessmen belonging to the Peary Arctic Club and National Geographic, among others, destroyed the reputation of a seemingly honest man, even to the point of refuting Cook's earlier claim to being the first to summit Mt. McKinley. At least National Geographic later apologized for its actions, in 1988.

(Then again, what may really be the most saddest part of the book, is the warning that with the Arctic ice cap's current melting rate of 9% per decade as the world's climate grows warmer, that ice cap will disappear before the end of this century.)

But the tale of true adventure and hardship shines through for both Cook and Peary - nothing can detract from that. "Lost in a landless, spiritless world, in which the sky, the weather, the sun and all was a mystery," wrote Cook of his fears as he made his way.

And I also appreciate that the tale is yet not completely resolved, and may never be. Ah, the stuff of true adventure and hardship.


Michael said...

Sounds like a good read on an interesting topic about two tough characters who didn't like to admit failure of any kind!

Silbs said...

That's a great piece, Kristen. An excellent history lesson. Thanks.