With snow piling up and temperatures dropping in Newport this week, I decided to indulge in my favorite winter reading game. It’s called “Choose Your Own Polar Adventure” and playing is really very simple.
Obviously, you need to start by picking a Pole (no, not that kind of Pole). They keep saying that polarization is very bad these days, but you still need to choose between North or South. Do you prefer Santa Claus or penguins? A melting icecap or solid earth? Are you Anti-Arctic or just Pro-Antarctic?
Many of these expeditions commenced in an era of fervent nationalism and imperial aspiration. So who’s your team? In this corner we have those indomitable Brits, striving for glory across the barren tundra. When they left England, they had stiff upper lips. Now they’re stiff all over. What about these cheery, can-do Americans who tried to sail across the warm polar seas? (Spoiler alert: more like can’t-do Americans.) How do you feel about the Scandinavians? Descendants of Vikings! Surely they feel comfortable in the cold! Yes, but alas, they’re also comfortable eating dogs and penguins. And then there’s the Belgians. Yes, you heard me: actual Belgians!
Next comes the fun part. How do you like your survival rate? Do you go for heroic miracles of human endurance like the… Endurance? Or are you the kind of sadist who finds pleasure in vessels of abject desolation and terror like the…well, Terror? Maybe after all these extremes you prefer moderation, like the Jeannette expedition (39% survival rate) or William Barents’ third voyage (71%).
That latter excursion is the subject of ICEBOUND, Andrea Pitzer’s thrilling new history of 16th-century Dutch explorers who intrepidly sought the Northeast Passage and thus ventured farther north than any Europeans had before. Remarkably, they had much better success in the Elizabethan Age than some infamous expeditions during the Taft Administration. They were expert hunters, slept with warm cannonballs, and imbibed freely from their casks of beer – before it all froze.
Another upcoming Polar Adventure book is MADHOUSE AT THE END OF THE EARTH, one of my favorites of this year so far. Beset by low funding, feeble leadership, mutiny, and navigational errors, the 1897 Belgica expedition seemed doomed even before it inevitably got stuck in the Antarctic ice pack. But the polar winter is where this tale begins to diverge from more famous expeditions. Through ingenuity and desperation, the polylingual crew scraped together a bold and madcap plan for escape, which adds unexpected excitement to the climax of this narrative history.
Have you got the hang of the game yet? Are you ready to take the icy plunge? If you still need some help, check out our handpicked list of Polar Adventures. Make your selection, don your sealskin, and embed yourself in the pages.
Editor’s Note – In the interest of full disclosure, we would like you to know that Charter Books is a current What’s Up Newp advertiser. We’ve invited Charter Books to share this content because we think it is fun, interesting, and informative.