Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Empire of Ice and Stone

Empire of Ice and Stone
  Empire of Ice and Stone:  The Disastrous and Heroic Voyage of the Karluk
Author:  Buddy Levy
Publication Information:  St. Martin's Press. 2022. 400 pages.
ISBN:  1250274443 / 978-1250274441

Rating:   ★★★★

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "In early September 1912, a sinewy, sun-seared, elfish-looking man disembarked a steamer at the Port of Seattle with stunning news He encountered a previously unknown tribe of red-haired, blue-eyed, light-skinned 'Eskimos' of Scandinavian origin who'd never seen another white person."

Favorite Quote:  "In the end, Captain Robert Abram Bartlett, ice pilot and master mariner, remains the hero of the Karluk saga, and Vilhjalmur Stefanson its villain."

The Kurluk was one ship - the flagship - in an Arctic expedition in the early 1900s. The ship and its crew met a tragic end; nearly half of those aboard died after the ship became trapped in ice on its way to meet up with the rest of the expedition at Herschel Island.

This book is truly the story of two men. Canadian Vilhjalmur Stefannson was the leader and the planner of the trip. Robert Bartlett was the captain of the Karluk. The difference in outlook, leadership, and actions of these two men is the key to this story.

Shortly after the ship became trapped in ice, Vilhjalmur Stefannson left the ship, ostensibly to hunt for food and to seek help. He never looked back. When he reached a safe point, he went on to pursue his own objectives, leaving the Karluk and its remaining crew to fend for itself.

Robert Barlett, on the other hand, remained with the ship and crew until the ship sank. He ten led a march across the ice to seek help. Weather prevented rescue. However, eventually 14 crew members were rescue.

History has had differing opinions on the decisions of these two men. Read this telling and see what you think. This book offers a very clear opinion.

The book presents much detail about the set up of the expeditions, explaining where care was taken and where it was not. It describes the backgrounds of some of the key team members and what led them to join the mission aboard the Karluk. The details of life on the water and survival on the ice conjure vivid images that place me on board that ship. The mundane details of day to day life. The threat of fire. The lack of food. The idea of drifting where the ice takes you with no control over your direction or destination.

The descriptions of the interactions - teamwork, arguments, and fights - among the crew are a case study in group behavior, especially in close quarters and such dire circumstances. The book also tells of the other heroes and villains of this expedition beyond the two men primarily remembered by history. The research for this book, to my knowledge, was done through notebooks, journals, and archives. The book, however, includes conversations and dialogue. It is unclear how that is created, but, to my guess, it is created, turning this history into a story. It makes for much easier reading.

Perhaps most fascinating of all are the book's descriptions of the Artic conditions - the ice and the weather.  To me, the ice itself is as much a character of this history as any human being. For all the horror this expedition goes through, the descriptions of the ice are stark and beautiful in their own way. It is a reminder of the power of nature and the importance of human beings to always be mindful of that power.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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