From my cozy home, I am unsure how anyone survived early Arctic explorations or why they kept going back, but I certainly love reading about them. This book follows a two-year expedition that becomes a five-year expedition and involves a drunken ship captain, a murderer, and all sorts of other disasters. If you enjoy reading about disastrous polar expeditions from the comfort of your armchair as much as I do, this is for you.
A Booklist Best Literary Travel Book of 2017
A Kirkus Reviews Best Nonfiction Book of 2016
A remarkable true story of adventure, betrayal, and survival set in one of the world’s most inhospitable places.
In 1906, from atop a snow-swept hill in the ice fields northwest of Greenland, hundreds of miles from another human being, Commander Robert E. Peary spotted a line of mysterious peaks looming in the distance. He called this unexplored realm “Crocker Land.” Scientists and explorers agreed that the world-famous explorer had discovered a new continent rising from the frozen Arctic Ocean.
Several years later, two of Peary’s disciples, George Borup and Donald MacMillan, assembled a team of amateur adventurers to investigate Crocker Land. Before them lay a chance at the kind of lasting fame enjoyed by Magellan, Columbus, and Captain Cook. While filling in the last blank space on the globe, they might find new species of plants or animals, or even men; in the era of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells, anything seemed possible. Renowned scientific institutions, and even former president Theodore Roosevelt, rushed to endorse the expedition.
What followed was a sequence of events that none of the explorers could have imagined. Trapped in a true-life adventure story, the men endured howling blizzards, unearthly cold, food shortages, isolation, a fatal boating accident, a drunken sea captain, disease, dissension, and a horrific crime. But the team pushed on through every obstacle, driven forward by the mystery of Crocker Land and faint hopes that they someday would make it home.
Populated with a cast of memorable characters, and based on years of research in previously untapped sources, A Wretched and Precarious Situation is a harrowing Arctic narrative unlike any other.
About the Author
David Welky is the author of The Thousand-Year Flood: The Ohio-Mississippi Disaster of 1937, The Moguls and the Dictators: Hollywood and the Coming of World War II, and other books. He is a professor of history at the University of Central Arkansas.
What a book!....Excellent writing that combines some of the serious novelist’s techniques with information that can only come from hundreds of hours with long-forgotten diaries, letters and newspaper accounts....Comparable but better-known authors in the genre include David McCullough, John Barry and Timothy Egan. — Bill Streever
Polar historians…will be grateful to have the Crocker Land expedition properly documented.
David Welky reveals in this engrossing account....the classic litany of illness, privation and howling blizzards, [and] a singularly bizarre finding about [polar explorer Robert] Peary's original sighting.
Welky’s fast-moving, evocative narrative paints a vivid portrait of the men who, along with their Inuit companions, risked their lives for ‘dreams of lost continents awaiting discovery.’
A penetrating study of human character in a challenging environment....His seamless narrative, chilling at times and always thought-provoking, transports the reader to a time when the Arctic was virtually as harsh and inaccessible a place as the Moon or Mars.
"Drawing on extensive expedition diaries....This is a classic explorer’s narrative, pitting ambition against the limits of endurance."
Making magnificent use of documents and recreating the years-long Arctic sojourn with the drama and immediacy of a tension-filled adventure novel, [Welky] conjures a romantic quest emblematic of the rugged manliness of the time…vastly entertaining.
Welky is a superb writer, and he mines the interpersonal relationships of the expedition’s participants – the loyalties, the friendships grown or torn asunder, the cultural insensitivities – as effectively as he describes the travel, the exploration into unknown territory, and the constant flirtation with death at the hands of the elements.
Unravels the strange story of one of the world’s greatest discoveries that never was. — Simon Worrall