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The Man Who Ate His Boots: The Tragic History of the Search for the Northwest Passage

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The enthralling, often harrowing story of the adventurers who searched in vain for the Northwest Passage, the holy grail of nineteenth-century British exploration. Dozens of missions set out for the Arctic during the first half of the nineteenth century; all ended in failure and many in disaster, as men found themselves starving to death in the freezing wilderness, sometime The enthralling, often harrowing story of the adventurers who searched in vain for the Northwest Passage, the holy grail of nineteenth-century British exploration. Dozens of missions set out for the Arctic during the first half of the nineteenth century; all ended in failure and many in disaster, as men found themselves starving to death in the freezing wilderness, sometimes with nothing left to eat but their companions' remains. Anthony Brandt traces the complete history of this noble and foolhardy obsession, which originated during the sixteenth century, bringing vividly to life this record of courage and incompetence, privation and endurance, heroics and tragedy. Along the way he introduces us to an expansive cast of fascinating characters: seamen and landlubbers, scientists and politicians, skeptics and tireless believers. The Man Who Ate His Boots is a rich and engaging work of narrative history--a multifaceted portrait of noble adventure and of imperialistic folly.


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The enthralling, often harrowing story of the adventurers who searched in vain for the Northwest Passage, the holy grail of nineteenth-century British exploration. Dozens of missions set out for the Arctic during the first half of the nineteenth century; all ended in failure and many in disaster, as men found themselves starving to death in the freezing wilderness, sometime The enthralling, often harrowing story of the adventurers who searched in vain for the Northwest Passage, the holy grail of nineteenth-century British exploration. Dozens of missions set out for the Arctic during the first half of the nineteenth century; all ended in failure and many in disaster, as men found themselves starving to death in the freezing wilderness, sometimes with nothing left to eat but their companions' remains. Anthony Brandt traces the complete history of this noble and foolhardy obsession, which originated during the sixteenth century, bringing vividly to life this record of courage and incompetence, privation and endurance, heroics and tragedy. Along the way he introduces us to an expansive cast of fascinating characters: seamen and landlubbers, scientists and politicians, skeptics and tireless believers. The Man Who Ate His Boots is a rich and engaging work of narrative history--a multifaceted portrait of noble adventure and of imperialistic folly.

30 review for The Man Who Ate His Boots: The Tragic History of the Search for the Northwest Passage

  1. 5 out of 5

    Christine

    I picked this book because I enjoyed The Terror and that book is a "what if" about the Franklin expedition. It's a thumping good read. This is coming from someone who is only mildly interested in the topic of the Northwest Passage. Brandt makes the reader feel cold, which considering the weather in Philly when I was reading this book, is surprising. I felt cold even when I was sitting outside in the sunlight. Brandt also seems to be fair. While acknowledges the stupidity or hubris of the British in I picked this book because I enjoyed The Terror and that book is a "what if" about the Franklin expedition. It's a thumping good read. This is coming from someone who is only mildly interested in the topic of the Northwest Passage. Brandt makes the reader feel cold, which considering the weather in Philly when I was reading this book, is surprising. I felt cold even when I was sitting outside in the sunlight. Brandt also seems to be fair. While acknowledges the stupidity or hubris of the British in not listening to the Inuit, it is quite clear that he feels something for the men. He does not blindly hero worship, but he is not "string them up" either. He presents the book in a balanced sympathy, if that makes sense. I also enjoyed the slight tangnent where Brandt presents details about the life of Lady Jane Franklin, who sounds like a hell of a woman, just as much of an explorer as her husband. I suppose some people would find the passages pointless, but I enjoyed them. If you are interested in naval exploration, Canada (quite frankly, despite the fact that I am a Yank, it seems Canada "owns" the NorthWest Passage, except for the tip that goes around Alaska), or The Terror, you should read this book.

  2. 4 out of 5

    GoldGato

    The story of the Franklin Expedition has always fascinated me, as did the entire Arctic quest to find the Northwest Passage. To think that it was just about a century and a half ago that mankind still didn't know what was really up there...such bravery. However, having bookshelves full of other books describing most of this Arctic adventure, I can only give this edition two stars, as it ended up reading more like a tenured professor's obligatory publication (I much prefer Barrow's Boys: The Orig The story of the Franklin Expedition has always fascinated me, as did the entire Arctic quest to find the Northwest Passage. To think that it was just about a century and a half ago that mankind still didn't know what was really up there...such bravery. However, having bookshelves full of other books describing most of this Arctic adventure, I can only give this edition two stars, as it ended up reading more like a tenured professor's obligatory publication (I much prefer Barrow's Boys: The Original Extreme Adventurers: A Stirring Story of Daring Fortitude and Outright Lunacy). Sir John Franklin wasn't exactly the choice who would come to mind when choosing a commander for such a treacherous expedition. The British certainly ruled the seas, and at times, they let their arrogance overcome better judgment. Franklin was really from an earlier era, dooming his men from the get-go. Imagine being stuck in ice for years, finally realizing that, hey, time to move overland or death will visit. Wasted lives. National Geographic wrote up a much more fascinating account of the remains discovered of the last survivors of the expedition, as the bodies were found in amazingly good shape. Cannibalism, starvation, confusion...as the Inuit tribes looked on in bemusement. Book Season = Winter (Jack Frost is eating more than your nose)

  3. 5 out of 5

    Ms.pegasus

    Rue Britannia… With the wisdom of hindsight, it would have been easy for Anthony Brandt to deride Britain’s obsessive search for a northwest passage in his book THE MAN WHO ATE HIS BOOTS; THE TRAGIC HISTORY OF THE SEARCH FOR THE NORTHWEST PASSAGE. Instead, Brandt has written about the half century of arctic exploration between the end of the Napoleonic Wars and the beginning of the Crimean War with sympathy and insight. Certainly, hubris and national pride played a role in this doomed enterprise. Rue Britannia… With the wisdom of hindsight, it would have been easy for Anthony Brandt to deride Britain’s obsessive search for a northwest passage in his book THE MAN WHO ATE HIS BOOTS; THE TRAGIC HISTORY OF THE SEARCH FOR THE NORTHWEST PASSAGE. Instead, Brandt has written about the half century of arctic exploration between the end of the Napoleonic Wars and the beginning of the Crimean War with sympathy and insight. Certainly, hubris and national pride played a role in this doomed enterprise. These, however, were conjoined with incredibly bad luck – ice core samples indicate this half century was among the coldest on record. Another factor was the unfortunate misconception that – despite all evidence to the contrary –the Arctic Sea, being salt water, could not freeze. Therefore, finding a northwest passage was merely a matter of penetrating the surrounding ring of ice floes. At the same time, the lure of class mobility and economics (naval officers without an assignment, and this was the era of Pax Britannia, were reduced to half-pay) as well as the ideal of heroism produced a surfeit of volunteers for the grueling arctic enterprises. Brandt brings an ironic wit to this well-researched book. The hard-nosed Hudson Bay Company saw the lack of profit in the northwest passage enterprise and was initially a reluctant participant. In 1719 when James Knight persuaded the company to sponsor his command of two ships and then disappeared, the company never made an attempt to find him. One writer opined “some of the Company said upon this occasion that they did not value the loss of the ship and sloop as long as they were rid of those troublesome men.” Over a dozen arctic expeditions are described in detail: The principal exploits of John Ross, his nephew James Clark Ross, William Edward Parry, George Back, Frederick William Beechey, John Rae, and Robert McClure, as well as the three voyages of John Franklin (the man who ate his boots). Each time, Brandt immerses the reader in the varied personalities of these explorers. The reader applauds their successes, recoils at their privations, marvels at their courage, and despairs at their ill-fortunes. Litanies of extreme cold, a floating magnetic pole that made compasses ineffective, fog, ice-bound summers, scurvy, starvation, frost-bite, unpredictable weather and over 6 types of ice (Stephen Pyne listed 49 types in his book on Antarctica, Brandt points out) never become boring. One of the interesting techniques Parry uses to navigate through ice is called “sallying.” The crew had to run from one side of the ship to the other in order to encourage a rocking motion by the ship. Brandt’s conclusions are sobering: “A direct line connects Franklin and [Robert Falcon] Scott….Their expeditions failed for similar reasons: because they would not learn the ways of natives who had spent their lives in the ice; …because they were English gentlemen and Royal Navy officers and all too conscious of their own superiority.”

  4. 4 out of 5

    Paula

    It is very dry. Be prepared to read this book as you do a text book- ie with a note pad- and record every date. While the author brings in personalities of the main players, in interesting yet brief asides, he also assumes you remember every date of every polar enterprise over a multi CENTURY period of arctic exploration. He almost NEVER relates the timing to any other event- they are simply listed as a serious of month/year... If only he had done the math for us it would be a 3-4* book. Its har It is very dry. Be prepared to read this book as you do a text book- ie with a note pad- and record every date. While the author brings in personalities of the main players, in interesting yet brief asides, he also assumes you remember every date of every polar enterprise over a multi CENTURY period of arctic exploration. He almost NEVER relates the timing to any other event- they are simply listed as a serious of month/year... If only he had done the math for us it would be a 3-4* book. Its hard to feel a sense of excitement about a rescue expedition when you have no idea if they left 6 months or 6 decades after the original trek if you didn't keep copious notes throughout.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    Man, I sure do love me some Arctic exploration books. I've read books about some of the other expeditions mentioned in this book so it was kinda cool to have them all put into a timeline and the history leading up to them. For a group of people that believed they were "far superior" to the lowly "savages" they weren't smart enough to learn from them when it came to surviving in the natives country. Except John Rae of course. That dude was "da' man". But this book mostly covers the British attemp Man, I sure do love me some Arctic exploration books. I've read books about some of the other expeditions mentioned in this book so it was kinda cool to have them all put into a timeline and the history leading up to them. For a group of people that believed they were "far superior" to the lowly "savages" they weren't smart enough to learn from them when it came to surviving in the natives country. Except John Rae of course. That dude was "da' man". But this book mostly covers the British attempts to find the Northwest Passage and focuses a good deal on Sir John Franklin(you'll learn there was a lot of dudes named John in Victorian England) His expeditions and the eventual search for his final lost voyage. But it is chock full o' other expeditions as well. John Ross, John Rae, William Parry, James Ross....and the man that lobbied for them, John Barrow. See what I mean about the Johns? This book is packed full of info for only 396 pages of actual text.(not including appendix and such) It could of easily been a 600 page book if the author went into more detail. I'm just wishing I would have read this book BEFORE I read Frozen in Time, another book that covers the search for answers about the Franklin expedition. I highly recommend this book. Then I recommend reading Frozen in Time(which is co-written by a John)right after. Man I sure do love me some Arctic exploration books!!

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    A fascinating story of a terrible adventure gone horribly wrong.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Meagan

    Going in to this book, I had honestly very little knowledge of Arctic exploration. It was all along the lines of "I think I maybe heard a story about something like that one time," or "Yeah, I think his name sounds familiar." Nothing concrete, and definitely nothing meaningful or useful. In fact, I'm certain that this book ended up on my reading list because of a positive review, rather than any driving interest on my part. Imagine my surprise when I found the topic kind of fascinating. I think I Going in to this book, I had honestly very little knowledge of Arctic exploration. It was all along the lines of "I think I maybe heard a story about something like that one time," or "Yeah, I think his name sounds familiar." Nothing concrete, and definitely nothing meaningful or useful. In fact, I'm certain that this book ended up on my reading list because of a positive review, rather than any driving interest on my part. Imagine my surprise when I found the topic kind of fascinating. I think I'll walk away from this book with some lasting knowledge of three people, and one awesome fact that makes me want to visit the White House. Person one: John Barrow. The most stubborn, willfully blind to the facts, overconfident boob I've ever read about. He sent expedition after expedition of men into the Arctic, each of which met with hardship at the very least and occasionally severe deprivation and tragedy. But when they came back with news of dead ends and frozen seas and no sign of a navigable Northwest Passage, what is his response? That he's grateful for the service of these men, and that he's never been more certain that there is an open Polar sea that is just beyond the explored area and it's Britain's destiny to find it. This man believed that the open ocean could not freeze, despite the eyewitness testimony of dozens of whalers who had seen it happen. Astounding. Person two: Sir John Franklin. The titular man who ate his boots. I kind of expected to find him a pathetic character. I thought I would find a superior attitude and a lack of planning due to arrogance who was nothing more than a tragic sidenote to history. (Did I mention that I had no real understanding of the history of Arctic exploration?) There were plenty of men who fit into that category, but it seems that John Franklin was not one of them. His writings are described as really, really boring, but writing about him universally describes him as a nice, fair, intelligent, brave and dutiful man. He demonstrated remarkable fortitude in the face of unimaginable hardship, more than once, and his biggest complaint in life was when he felt that his honor had been wronged when he was called back to England from Tasmania. (It should be noted that he was called back based on the accusations of one man, while he was given a hero's send-off by the residents of Tasmania.) I became so fond of this chubby captain and explorer that I became genuinely melancholy when it became apparent what his fate would be. You don't see many genuinely good men in the history books. Person three: Lady Jane Franklin. If Lady Jane Franklin lived today, I would be a fangirl. This woman kicked ass. She was John Franklin's second wife, and reportedly turned down dozens of proposals because she wanted a man who could keep up with her adventurous nature. This woman travelled the world. Literally, she went around the world, and often on her own. This is astounding for a woman of her time! She travelled up the Nile, explored Syria during a war, visited Turkey, climbed a mountain in the brand-spanking-new United States, lived on Tasmania (which was a prison colony), travelled through the Australian bush from what is now Melbourne to what is now Sydney (the first white woman to do so), visited New Zealand, visited Japan, visited Brazil, explored San Francisco, and canoed up rivers in the Canadian wild so that she could experience the environment in which her husband worked and, eventually, died. She did most of this on her own. Just her niece and maid for companions. And lest you think that her marriage was merely a formality to allow her greater personal freedom, she showed intense devotion to her husband. He offered to refuse a dowry upon their marriage, leaving her with all her own money, but she refused, instead opting for an all-in marriage that was traditional for the time. They had deep mutual respect for each other, and she took as much care about his Naval career as he showed respect for her opinions about developing it. When Franklin disappeared on his final voyage, Lady Jane talked loud and often about sending rescue missions. She nearly bankrupted herself funding ships to search for him, shaming the government into sending their own ships. She wrote to world leaders, convincing them to send their own rescue ships. And when the British government declared her husband dead after five years of searching to no avail, she refused to apply for the widow's pension she was owed. She had no proof, and would not believe it. In the end, her husband was found right where she encouraged (unsuccessfully) the Admiralty to search. When evidence of cannibalism was found, she worked further to get answers to what happened to the expedition and to leave her husband's honor intact. She was known and respected across the world. She was a badass. Awesome Fact: I knew (again in that "I think I heard about something like that" way) that there was a desk in the Oval Office that had been a gift and had been carved out of some significant wood. Well. I'm now desperate to see this desk for myself. To touch it. I will never have the opportunity, but oh how I would like to. The desk currently in the Oval Office is carved from the deck wood of the H.M.S. Resolute. The Resolute was one of the ships sent to the Arctic to search for Franklin, and because of a long story involving it getting frozen in pack ice, it was abandoned. It was later discovered by an American, who sailed it back to New York and forwarded the captain's epaulettes to England. England responded that the ship was salvage and they had no claim to it. So the United States bought the Resolute from the salvager and renovated it, keeping the captain's quarters as they had been when the ship was sailing, and returned it as a gift to a grateful and touched Britain. When the ship was later decommissioned, the desk was carved from the decks of the ship and given to the U.S. as a token of mutual respect and friendship. What a story. This ship was sent to search for a great Arctic explorer, spent years frozen in the ice, was salvaged and sailed again, only to be turned into a desk which has been used by almost every president since Rutherford B. Hayes. That desk is made of pure history. I would love to see it. Fascinating topic. Really good book.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Kris

    I'm fascinated by this piece of history, so I'm glad to have picked up a few facts. But this book needed another round of edits to trim it down. There isn't one narrative to carry the reader along, and it really feels its length. I debated giving up a few times, and I would not have gotten through this in print. Brandt isn't as terribly dry as some historians, but he doesn't have Larson's magic to spin up stories of heartbreak and suspense. Someone else needs to re-write this story with better c I'm fascinated by this piece of history, so I'm glad to have picked up a few facts. But this book needed another round of edits to trim it down. There isn't one narrative to carry the reader along, and it really feels its length. I debated giving up a few times, and I would not have gotten through this in print. Brandt isn't as terribly dry as some historians, but he doesn't have Larson's magic to spin up stories of heartbreak and suspense. Someone else needs to re-write this story with better characterization.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Todd Stockslager

    Sweating out the Northwest Passage So not I'm not sure if it was the weather (90+ temperatures and wringing-wet humidity--but no rain of course!) in Raleigh that prompted me to seek solace in the vast Arctic ice floes, or if it was the title of Brandt's book. I'm always a sucker for a title like this, with a near-endless fascination by travel, adventures, and exploration at the edges of human habitation, so this book was as sure-fire of a pre-sold book as any ever published for me. And they say y Sweating out the Northwest Passage So not I'm not sure if it was the weather (90+ temperatures and wringing-wet humidity--but no rain of course!) in Raleigh that prompted me to seek solace in the vast Arctic ice floes, or if it was the title of Brandt's book. I'm always a sucker for a title like this, with a near-endless fascination by travel, adventures, and exploration at the edges of human habitation, so this book was as sure-fire of a pre-sold book as any ever published for me. And they say you can't judge a book by its cover! Well, Brandt does a fine job of filling in the blanks on the map and between the covers of this book to meet my expectations head on. I have read other books focused just on the infamous lost Franklin expedition (including the fairly recent conclusion that Franklin and crew were partially done in by lead poisoning from the early tin cans that made up a large part of their food supply), but Brandt covers the whole of Britain's quixotic search for the Northwest Passage in the 19th century leading up to Franklin's last tour. At the peak of its empirical spread, British navies spanned the globe to maintain peace, prosperity, and culture (at least for the conquering, if not the conquered), but the British Admiralty had a special desire to find a clear water passge west from England, north over the North American continent, and down through the Bering Strait into the Pacific Ocean and the lucrative Asian trade. So they tried, again and again, with the best of the technology, training, and men they had available at the time, and failed, again and again. Part of it was a stubborn insistence, despite practical knowledge from North Atlantic whalers, that ice could not form on the open ocean, and that north of the Arctic Circle, once past the ice floes bordering the coastlines, was an open polar ocean. As it turns out there is a (actually several) channels through the Northwest, that are mostly closed most of the time by ice, so the passages would never be of any economic, empirical, or military advantage anyway--until today, when as Brandt points out, one short-term benefit of global warming is that more passages are open more of the time now than ever, to the point that Canada is desperately seeking to establish sovereignty over what are becoming valuable trade routes and reachable sources of natural resources. And yes, Franklin did eat his boots, but not on the ocean! He did it during one of the overland treks planned and manned by British seamen from Hudson Bay north to the Canadian coast. As it turns out, he survived, even though several of his men did not, and lived to die and became lionized posthumously as the great explorer and discoverer of the Northwest passage. Brandt tells all these tales with authoritative references and solid, spare writing, all with a touch of humor and humanity. Well worth curling up with to cool down a midsummer heat wave.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Punk

    Non-Fiction. Concentrates on the period of British history following the Napoleonic Wars, covering 1818-1880, with a focus on John Franklin. 1818 was the year Franklin went on his first expedition to the arctic, and 1880 saw what would be the last of the Franklin search expeditions until the end of the twentieth century. The book covers more than just Franklin, but his first and last trips act like a set of bookends, neatly propping the whole thing up. This isn't as detailed or comprehensive as W Non-Fiction. Concentrates on the period of British history following the Napoleonic Wars, covering 1818-1880, with a focus on John Franklin. 1818 was the year Franklin went on his first expedition to the arctic, and 1880 saw what would be the last of the Franklin search expeditions until the end of the twentieth century. The book covers more than just Franklin, but his first and last trips act like a set of bookends, neatly propping the whole thing up. This isn't as detailed or comprehensive as Williams' Arctic Labyrinth, but it provides more context for the dates and places that Williams lays out. Brandt writes with an awareness of what comes next. Unlike Arctic Labyrinth, which is more of a straight history, this includes more commentary and interpretation of events, as well as more speculation, though all of it clearly indicated as such. It feels more like a synthesis of sources from different disciplines, rather than Williams' long list of chronological events. The two books work well together. Williams gave me the exhaustive detail I needed to fill in some of the holes in Brandt's more personable account, and Brandt addresses some things that Williams doesn't cover, such as John Barrow's obsession with the Northwest Passage, and precisely why Franklin's first overland expedition was practically doomed from the start. Brandt's prose is easy to read, casual and charismatic. He does get a little too casual in the latter half of the book, liberally dosing the reader with rhetorical questions in order to move from one subject to the next, and the subject can wander for a bit, like in chapter 16, when the topic switches to the lack of scientific rigor in the data collected by the Royal Navy. Like Williams, Brandt doesn't use HMS designations to indicate Royal Navy ships, which I find confusing. The maps lack some locations repeatedly referred to in the text, and the map of King William Island definitely should have come earlier in the book. Four stars. Not quite a popular history, but more accessible to the casual reader, I'd say. It covers only a fraction of the time the British spent searching for the Northwest Passage, but it's arguably the most exciting time; it's definitely the most time spent stuck in the ice. Has an outline of arctic expeditions for the period covered in the book, an index, thorough end notes, and a bibliography.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen

    History isn't written by the victor, it's written by the most kick ass wife on the winning side. Seriously, just about the only name associated with the Northwest Passage that I knew before reading this book was John Franklin's. It turns out that he didn't travel the furthest or suffer the most in the arctic ice, while he was a great adventurer, there is no proof that he ever even found a Northwest Passage. At most, he died in the vicinity of one. Luckily, he had an incredible wife who ensured t History isn't written by the victor, it's written by the most kick ass wife on the winning side. Seriously, just about the only name associated with the Northwest Passage that I knew before reading this book was John Franklin's. It turns out that he didn't travel the furthest or suffer the most in the arctic ice, while he was a great adventurer, there is no proof that he ever even found a Northwest Passage. At most, he died in the vicinity of one. Luckily, he had an incredible wife who ensured that he got plenty of posthumous credit and a lyric in a folk song or two. As for Parry, Ross, and McClintock, they have their stories told as well. With far less shady cannibalism and Inuit abuse, I actually prefer their stories to Franklin's. Yet because of his disappearance, Franklin remains the most romantic character of all. From what I've read, I think that might have pleased him. This is a very well put together history of the British exploration of the arctic. I recommend it for anyone who likes British Naval Histories. You know who you are.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Oana

    A fantastic introduction to the Franklin arctic expeditions, as well as a survey of the search for the Northwest Passage. Good details with useful source notes (make sure to read them as there are some extra details), a thorough bibliography, five maps and a chronology of expeditions from 1818-1880 (I'll be referring to this Cole's Notes list from now on). I also appreciated that the author, as an American, used the term "Inuit." What would have been helpful is a list of maps (I had to bookmark a A fantastic introduction to the Franklin arctic expeditions, as well as a survey of the search for the Northwest Passage. Good details with useful source notes (make sure to read them as there are some extra details), a thorough bibliography, five maps and a chronology of expeditions from 1818-1880 (I'll be referring to this Cole's Notes list from now on). I also appreciated that the author, as an American, used the term "Inuit." What would have been helpful is a list of maps (I had to bookmark all of them) and some important place names that had been left out. As well, I was puzzled by some characters that were a big part of the story but about whom we never found out how they disappeared. When did Barrow die? Did Eleanor, Franklin's daughter, get anything? Where did George Lyon go?

  13. 4 out of 5

    Patricia Veinott

    A good book about a tragic voyage. I enjoyed Brandt's style, although this book would be considerably more enjoyable if more maps were included; I sat with my atlas opened on my lap while I read some chapters. Brandt, like a good historian, is sympathetic but even handed with his assessment. Of course, the whole quest for the Northwest Passage is a tale of British hubris and their unwavering sense of superiority ultimately killed a bunch of these poor chaps. But you can't discount that these men A good book about a tragic voyage. I enjoyed Brandt's style, although this book would be considerably more enjoyable if more maps were included; I sat with my atlas opened on my lap while I read some chapters. Brandt, like a good historian, is sympathetic but even handed with his assessment. Of course, the whole quest for the Northwest Passage is a tale of British hubris and their unwavering sense of superiority ultimately killed a bunch of these poor chaps. But you can't discount that these men were brave beyond reason and tough as nails, and it's incredible what they accomplished with basically just stubborn determination. Fascinating book.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    The Man Who Ate His Boots is jam packed--like a Royal Navy ship trapped in a polar ice floe--with historical detail, yet thanks to Brandt's writing style, it retains a light tone that propels the action forward and makes it hard to put down. It's essential reading for anyone interested in British maritime history, Arctic exploration, the Canadian fur trade, shipwrecks, cannibalism and, of course, fans of Dan Simmons' The Terror. The Man Who Ate His Boots is jam packed--like a Royal Navy ship trapped in a polar ice floe--with historical detail, yet thanks to Brandt's writing style, it retains a light tone that propels the action forward and makes it hard to put down. It's essential reading for anyone interested in British maritime history, Arctic exploration, the Canadian fur trade, shipwrecks, cannibalism and, of course, fans of Dan Simmons' The Terror.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    I can't imagine much that would be more miserable than exploring the arctic. Occasionally this book lost my interest, veering into side stories that took too long, but the meat of it was good and, wow, some real misery was had in the quest for the Northwest Passage. Simon Vance narrates the audiobook. I could listen to him read the phone book. I can't imagine much that would be more miserable than exploring the arctic. Occasionally this book lost my interest, veering into side stories that took too long, but the meat of it was good and, wow, some real misery was had in the quest for the Northwest Passage. Simon Vance narrates the audiobook. I could listen to him read the phone book.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jimmy Tarlau

    One of the best history books I've read (listened to) in awhile. The book tells the story of the British explorers who sought to find a passage from Europe to Asia North of Canada. It's a part of the world I know very little about. There are over thirty thousand islands in what is called the Canadian Arctic Archiipelago and most of the area is impossible to navigate by boat because of the ice. (Interestingly it is easier to navigate the Northwest passage now because of global warming.) The explo One of the best history books I've read (listened to) in awhile. The book tells the story of the British explorers who sought to find a passage from Europe to Asia North of Canada. It's a part of the world I know very little about. There are over thirty thousand islands in what is called the Canadian Arctic Archiipelago and most of the area is impossible to navigate by boat because of the ice. (Interestingly it is easier to navigate the Northwest passage now because of global warming.) The explorers could only navigate the waters in August and September so many of the explorations lasted two to three years with the explorers wintering in the North so they could be there when the ice melted in July and August. Hard to fathom spending winters up there. Anyway, a good story of what people went through. There is also, of course, the story of the lost expedition of John Franklin which has been written and sung about many times.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Shonn Haren

    It was interesting to read this book right after reading Ice Ghosts, which was published in 2017, as we now know the final resting places of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror. Having read a bit about explorations for the Northwest Passage, I was pleased that Brandt, in his discussion of the history of the search for the passage prior to the 19th Century covered some of the more obscure and tragic expeditions, including that of Jens Munk, whose 1619 expedition to Hudson Bay in search of the passage resul It was interesting to read this book right after reading Ice Ghosts, which was published in 2017, as we now know the final resting places of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror. Having read a bit about explorations for the Northwest Passage, I was pleased that Brandt, in his discussion of the history of the search for the passage prior to the 19th Century covered some of the more obscure and tragic expeditions, including that of Jens Munk, whose 1619 expedition to Hudson Bay in search of the passage resulted in the deaths of 62 of his 65 crew members, leaving only himself and two other survivors to sail back to Denmark; and James Knight, whose 1721 expedition in the same region in search of the passage resulted in the disappearance of his entire expedition. I was fascinated by Brandt's story that the Hudson's Bay Company basically covered up and disavowed all knowledge of the fate of the Knight expedition for years after the fact.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Ugo Marsolais

    Quite an exhaustive story of the various expeditions of the 19th century that mapped the Canadian artic archipelago and discovered the famous North-West "Passage", which turned out to be impossible to navigate - until the invention of ice-breaker ships in the 20th century - owing to being permanently iced-over. Anthony Brandt does a good job of telling the stories, the personalities and the harrowing, terrible hardships the explorers faced, culminating with cannibalism during the fateful Frankli Quite an exhaustive story of the various expeditions of the 19th century that mapped the Canadian artic archipelago and discovered the famous North-West "Passage", which turned out to be impossible to navigate - until the invention of ice-breaker ships in the 20th century - owing to being permanently iced-over. Anthony Brandt does a good job of telling the stories, the personalities and the harrowing, terrible hardships the explorers faced, culminating with cannibalism during the fateful Franklin expedition. If you only want to read one book about the North-West Passage, you can't go wrong with this one.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Patrick Book

    This is a pretty remarkable, exhaustive accounting of one of mankind’s greatest follies. The insistence that the northwest passage must be navigable just because certain people thought it should be is nothing short of astounding. The fact that the British never learned a damn thing that could’ve helped them survive from the Indigenous peoples of what would become Canada is astounding. The cost of the repeated missions to the north is astounding. The whole damn thing is astounding.

  20. 5 out of 5

    J

    A comprehensive history of Britain's search for the Northwest Passage to the Orient during the 19th century. Who wouldn't love reading about men stuck in the ice for years at a time, first contacts with Inuits, a worldwide rescue effort, and of course, men reduced to eating their boots? If you like survival stories and have an interest in the Arctic, you'll be a happy armchair explorer. A comprehensive history of Britain's search for the Northwest Passage to the Orient during the 19th century. Who wouldn't love reading about men stuck in the ice for years at a time, first contacts with Inuits, a worldwide rescue effort, and of course, men reduced to eating their boots? If you like survival stories and have an interest in the Arctic, you'll be a happy armchair explorer.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Bon

    Retreaded a lot of ground I've already read through, but a pleasant enough listen. Retreaded a lot of ground I've already read through, but a pleasant enough listen.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Allegra

    NOT ENOUGH CROZIER

  23. 5 out of 5

    Darcy Gregg

    Got this book for my Dad and thought I'd try it and kept thinking I'll stop, but was dragged into the extreme conditions that these explorers went through and was amazed that once they'd recovered they would sign up to do it again! We think we have had a tough day if it's cold or got stuck in traffic, books like this make me very grateful for the luxuries we take granted, including all the beautiful places around the world that were once discovered by intrepid explorers. Got this book for my Dad and thought I'd try it and kept thinking I'll stop, but was dragged into the extreme conditions that these explorers went through and was amazed that once they'd recovered they would sign up to do it again! We think we have had a tough day if it's cold or got stuck in traffic, books like this make me very grateful for the luxuries we take granted, including all the beautiful places around the world that were once discovered by intrepid explorers.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Mouldy Squid

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Every school child in Canada learns about the Last Franklin Expedition; the myth, the legend and the few known hard facts. In its time the fate of the 128 officers and crew was the world's greatest mystery and was only conclusively solved in the late 20th Century, almost 150 years after Franklin sailed two ships out of Liverpool and into the arctic. Brandt supplies a wealth of historical information and deftly weaves it into a gripping and, ultimately, tragic story. Not only does Brandt recount Every school child in Canada learns about the Last Franklin Expedition; the myth, the legend and the few known hard facts. In its time the fate of the 128 officers and crew was the world's greatest mystery and was only conclusively solved in the late 20th Century, almost 150 years after Franklin sailed two ships out of Liverpool and into the arctic. Brandt supplies a wealth of historical information and deftly weaves it into a gripping and, ultimately, tragic story. Not only does Brandt recount the Last Franklin Expedition of 1845, he charts the entire history of the search for the North West Passage from the 16th Century to the modern day. He details the expeditions by land and by sea in a compelling narrative rather than just a dry recitation of dates and facts. He also provides the historical context of the quest for the North West Passage and the biographies of those men and women who gave their lives to its discovery. Brandt easily and clearly evokes the Canadian High Arctic, bringing the bleak and sometimes bizarre geography. While the reader, in particular the listener, could benefit by reference to a map of the arctic, never once does Brandt fail to give a sense of scale, environment and sheer distance. Brandt does a masterful job of transporting the reader to the astounding and deadly landscape. No mystery should have its end revealed too soon and Brandt keeps the reader in suspense. While most of us know what the ultimate end met by Franklin and his men, Brandt cleverly leaves the details until the end when he tells the stories of the several rescue missions what what they conjectured and eventually discovered. Here, again, Brandt shows a deft hand in providing the historical context, following the efforts of Franklin's wife, Jane and her quest to uncover what happened to her husband and his men. Brandt also evokes the tragedy, the heroism and the pathos of those men at the last, describing the effects and consequences of the environment they braved. Simon Vance's narration is magnificent, his cadence and inflection lend a certain British seriousness and gravity to the tale. His voice itself is delightful to the ear and truly brings Brandt's book to life. Anyone who is enthralled by the arctic, or tales of heroism, or indeed, the history of the Last Franklin Expedition should not miss this book. The wealth of historical detail is enlightening, the explication of the personalities is edifying and the tragic tale astounding. This is easily one of the best books I have read this year. One last note for genre readers. This book would make an excellent companion to Dan Simmons' novel The Terror. Simmons terrifying novel "fills in" the blank spaces and the remaining mysteries of the Last Franklin Expedition in a quite literally chilling story of madness, monsters and murder. And, if you have read The Man Who Ate His Boots I would recommend reading Simmons' novel as well. Simmons does a fantastic job of bringing the arctic to life in a way Brandt does not, and he remains as true as possible to the know facts. Also and excellent read.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Evan Brandt

    Not claiming objectivity here, but I must say, up to part V and have enjoyed what could have been a dusty, depressing read given the subject matter. Not so. The author, a lovely man, has verve and panache. As a constant reader of history books, now that they're all the rage, there are several things I liked very much about this one. 1) It was written by my father and he's a pretty nice guy. 2) Even though I am a fan of history books, I sometimes feel like the writer is almost as glad as the reader wh Not claiming objectivity here, but I must say, up to part V and have enjoyed what could have been a dusty, depressing read given the subject matter. Not so. The author, a lovely man, has verve and panache. As a constant reader of history books, now that they're all the rage, there are several things I liked very much about this one. 1) It was written by my father and he's a pretty nice guy. 2) Even though I am a fan of history books, I sometimes feel like the writer is almost as glad as the reader when the book is over. That was not the case with this book. In many ways, the author saved the best stuff for the end. After all, we're talking canibalism here. But as much fun as it is to make fun of the British for their attempts to ignore the obvious, there still remains a strong aversion to the idea of eating each other and the author respected that to a certain extent. There may have been a temptation by some writers to shock the readers with the (sorry for the image) "red meat" up front, but it is not until the end that it is dealt with, tastefully I might add. Much like the British were kept waiting until the end, (years in fact) and then refused the believe the evidence in front of them, the readers don't get to see the evidence for themselves until the end, and although the subject it dealt with, it is not in a lurid manner. Instead, he does what very good writers do, imagines how those who partook must have felt, and then helps you imagine it as well. 3) It is a goddamn well-written book. Seriously. Having just slogged through "Patriot Pirates," which was interesting for subject matter but not for its diction or its organization, this was a welcome read. I was also glad to see my dad's own writing showcased to clearly. Several of his previous books have been collections of other writings from earlier eras. And while he's good at that, picked good examples and wrote pertinent introductions, his own writing is so much better. Don't take my word for it. It has been mentioned in all the reviews. 4) Maps. Any book that has maps, especially historical ones, will get my vote and these were good ones, because they were consistent. And, hats off to the publisher, those maps were in exactly the right place. Although I kept a book mark in the front for the large-scale map, often, just as I was getting confused about place names that were not on the large-scale map *bing* there was a new one of the specific region being discussed. So that's about it folks, a great read and a great work by a great guy. I'd recommend it to any and all who want to read the truth well told.

  26. 4 out of 5

    J.S.

    Anthony Brandt tells a surprisingly interesting story of the British search for the Northwest Passage - a long-sought route to the Far East by going around the Americas to the north. While he briefly covers early efforts, the core of the book focuses on the first half of the 1800s and men like John Ross, William Edward Parry, James Clark Ross (nephew to the elder Ross), and John Franklin - the man who literally ate his boots to avoid starvation. "Risk is the essence of exploration" (pg 140), but Anthony Brandt tells a surprisingly interesting story of the British search for the Northwest Passage - a long-sought route to the Far East by going around the Americas to the north. While he briefly covers early efforts, the core of the book focuses on the first half of the 1800s and men like John Ross, William Edward Parry, James Clark Ross (nephew to the elder Ross), and John Franklin - the man who literally ate his boots to avoid starvation. "Risk is the essence of exploration" (pg 140), but the search turned out to be a fools errand. Yes, there is a Northwest Passage (several, in fact), but it's frozen and impassable nearly year round and includes some of the most inhospitable places on earth. Ships became trapped in the ice that sometimes towered over them and men died of starvation, scurvy and exposure to subzero temperatures (as much as 70 below). And yet the British saw this exploration as their duty and a matter of national pride, and persisted. It's unfortunate they didn't have enough humility to adopt some of the practices of the local Inuit tribes, who successfully live in such harsh conditions. Brandt makes this period of history come alive with vivid descriptions of the elements, the explorers and the expeditions. He places the motivations in perspective, and makes it all more interesting than I had anticipated. The book is detailed and might be more information than some readers will want (nearly 400 fairly dense pages in my advance copy), and suffers from repetition sometimes but is highly readable. It started kind of slowly for me but really picked up, and I finished the last 60-70 pages at a run. I really enjoyed reading it. (Those who enjoyed Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing, and Sea of Glory: America's Voyage of Discovery, The U.S. Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842 by Nathaniel Philbrick will enjoy this book as well).

  27. 4 out of 5

    Brandon Cooper

    In contrast to a few of the adventure-themed exploration books I've been reading, Anthony Brandt's The Man Who Ate His Boots is a more serious attempt at a more traditional historical account. It contains far fewer salacious accounts, and it reads dryly from beginning to end. That in itself is not a bad thing; histories need not always be dramatized to be dramatic. The story is juicy enough without trying to add flavor. Brandt's only drawback is that he tries to write two different books: One a h In contrast to a few of the adventure-themed exploration books I've been reading, Anthony Brandt's The Man Who Ate His Boots is a more serious attempt at a more traditional historical account. It contains far fewer salacious accounts, and it reads dryly from beginning to end. That in itself is not a bad thing; histories need not always be dramatized to be dramatic. The story is juicy enough without trying to add flavor. Brandt's only drawback is that he tries to write two different books: One a history of the search for the Northwest Passage, another a biography of its most famous explorer, Sir John Franklin. Fans of The Terror from Dan Simmons Books will already been somewhat familiar with Franklin's expedition, albeit a fictionalized version. Rather than attempt to fill in the gaps of the famous Franklin Expedition disaster, Brandt covers the ridiculous history of the build-up to the expedition and the prolonged rescue operation that eventually culminated in the "discovery" of the passage itself. So is the story about the quest for the passage, Franklin, or the search for Franklin? The author admits in the introduction that he himself doesn't really know (or rather, he states that these things are all intertwined, which is just as well). On a larger scale, it's easy to see the themes that evolve throughout this book and others like it: The hubris of a society claiming that it is not only superior to other cultures, but to nature itself. The arrogance with which some people approached this issue so often frustrating and at times mind-numbing. How did so many people refuse to learn from their mistakes? It's difficult to determine today, but at least *we* can learn from them, right? ...right?

  28. 4 out of 5

    Russell Libonati

    I listened to this book from an mp3 I downloaded from my library. Some books are easy to listen to in the car. Others are impossible. This one was a bit difficult because there were a lot of details given. The book was a bit long for my taste as it went through more than just one explorer, which I do think was necessary. This is a history related book so if you don't like history avoid it. Personally I love survival stories and hearing about the conditions these explorers endured was fascinating I listened to this book from an mp3 I downloaded from my library. Some books are easy to listen to in the car. Others are impossible. This one was a bit difficult because there were a lot of details given. The book was a bit long for my taste as it went through more than just one explorer, which I do think was necessary. This is a history related book so if you don't like history avoid it. Personally I love survival stories and hearing about the conditions these explorers endured was fascinating to me. I honestly don't know why anyone, especially someone who had survived the ordeal once before, would ever choose to do this, but they were clearly made of different stuff back in the 1800s. For instance, if I were going to the arctic, the last thing I would bring is a piano. I gave it four stars because there were always questions that were never answered. For instance, how did they know where they were? What exactly did the men do on a ship stuck in the ice for 252 days? And most importantly, if they found the northwest passage, who would take it given the level of difficulty, just finding the thing? I'm sure you will have your own unanswered questions, so I highly recommend reading or listening to this book to generate them. You'll learn a lot along the way and cringe at what these travelers went through. The reader was excellent and there was no profanity or sex in the book.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    A little slow getting INTO this one, but an engrossing read once well in.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Bea

    As far as books about the search for the Northwest Passage go, I found this one rather enjoyable. I appreciated the final section of Brandt's book and how it focused on the many attempts to first rescue, then find the remains of, any of the sailors from Franklin's expedition. Usually when I pick up a book on the topic, the author spends that kind of time discussing the potential route the men walked, what happened to them along the way, how they died, how the Inuit found them. It is the first ti As far as books about the search for the Northwest Passage go, I found this one rather enjoyable. I appreciated the final section of Brandt's book and how it focused on the many attempts to first rescue, then find the remains of, any of the sailors from Franklin's expedition. Usually when I pick up a book on the topic, the author spends that kind of time discussing the potential route the men walked, what happened to them along the way, how they died, how the Inuit found them. It is the first time that I read a general overview of the many expeditions post-1848 in one place. I had trouble with the way the author managed the dates. I honestly wish more authors would just write out the year something happened at least every few mentions. I've never written a book, though, and maybe that is way too repetitive, but I had to constantly read back a few paragraphs or use the timeline at the front of the book to keep the timeline in the actual text straight. Finally, I took my pencil and just wrote the dates in the margins whenever I could. The other thing I found troublesome was the lack of clear maps. Maps are always a great addition to anything, from books about the high Arctic to fantasy short stories, and people just don't add enough of them. There were three useful maps in this text, but again I had to look at maps online and draw all over the ones in the book to get a picture of where these expedition leaders were at any given time. The map at the front of the book is so small that some of the islands (Beechy Island) and channels (Wellington Channel) and imaginary places (Wollastonland) that were key in the text itself weren't even labelled on this map. In the epilogue the author asked what was the point of Parks Canada locating the wrecks? ("It is hard to know what Canada is hoping to prove" he said, specifically.) I don't know the answer specifically, but since the publication of the book both the Terror and the Erebus have been found, as well as McClure's Investigator. They are protected sites, with images of the drowned ships and the belongings of the men that were left aboard that are still with them. Perhaps the ships themselves may hold some answers as to what happened to the crew. No shipwreck will last forever, either; isn't is important to find out what we can while we can? I don't know, maybe it was an excuse to map the sea floor, to find the edge of the continental shelf, and declare sovereignty over the Arctic. I am sure there were many reasons, but I still don't know what the author means by wondering about what there is 'to prove.' I do know that I am far more interested in the shipwrecks of the Arctic than I am of the Titanic, and one might ask what is the point of looking for that too, or any wreck? I guess my answer to this question (statement?) would be: why not? People died, their things are there, it seems important to me to at least log and record their lives as well as their deaths. Side note: two things I learned about myself in reading this: I am far more attached to the Oxford comma than I thought I was, and Fahrenheit/the imperial system of measurement still eludes me.

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