Read The Arctic Grail: The Quest for the Northwest Passage and the North Pole, 1818-1909 by Pierre Berton Online


Covering the entire period of exploration from the expedition of William Edward Perry in 1818 to that of Robert Peary in a single volume, Pierre Berton has written a revisionist history of the search for the Northwest passage and the North Pole. 26 illustrations....

Title : The Arctic Grail: The Quest for the Northwest Passage and the North Pole, 1818-1909
Author :
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ISBN : 9780670824915
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 672 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

The Arctic Grail: The Quest for the Northwest Passage and the North Pole, 1818-1909 Reviews

  • Chris
    2019-03-19 10:18

    I think sub titles for books like this should “White Men Doing Stupid Things When They Should Have Asked Natives Instead”. Because honestly, it would have been much easier if they had just followed the Inuit. This massive book is about the discovery and exploration of the Arctic. There is much analysis of why the white men were so stupid (and Berton, who was knighted, is very quick to point out not only how famous explorers treated each other, but how they disregarded and mistreated the Inuit). It is rather engrossing, and this is helped because it is split into sections that are split into smaller “chapters”. Well worth the read if you are interested in the whole freezing the cold thing.

  • Eric_W
    2019-02-23 07:07

    I have always been fascinated by polar exploration. Fortunately, there has been no dearth of excellent books on the subject, not to mention film documentaries. Dr. Mosher was kind enough to loan me a tape of the British series The Last Place on Earth, which dramatizes Roland Huntford's book about the Scott and Amundsen race to the South Pole. (If you get a chance, this is a must film -- especially during July.) Pierre Berton has written an absorbing chronicle of the obsession the 19th century civilized (?) world had with the North Pole and the Northwest Passage. By 1817, some 90% of British naval officers were unemployed, and the government needed projects to keep them busy. The Northwest Passage and the vast uncharted territory north of Canada presented an unknown begging to be conquered. Unfortunately, stupidity and negligence caused needless deaths over the next century. The Eskimos had the knowledge and skills to survive in this hostile environment. The British viewed them as inferior beings but the Eskimos knew otherwise. The term "Kabloona" was an expression of disgust; it was also a synonym for white man. British officers insisted on regulation woolen uniforms and cloth sleeping bags. Because they were tight-fitting, the wool would absorb sweat and then freeze. The same happened to sleeping bags. One party reported it took over one-half hour to thaw out their sleeping bags with body heat.Eskimos didn't use sleeping bags. They wore loose fitting garments made of deer skin. They didn't sleep in tents but snow houses which had the advantage of not needing to be dismantled. They could also be used on the return trip. They slept together as a group to share body heat, rather than in separate bags.The English diet consisted of hard tack and salted meat, so naturally they suffered from scurvy. Even after Rae discovered that adopting the fresh meat diet of the natives would prevent scurvy (fresh meat is antiscorbutic) the British insisted on traditional remedies which did not work in the Arctic environment.They refused to use dogs. Scott was forced to pull enormously heavy sledges over terrible terrain by hand after his pathetic disaster with ponies; and his team was still using the ridiculously heavy tents which continuously froze and added weight to the sledges. The Norwegians and some Americans learned the value of dogs from the natives.One cannot help but see a strong current of racism in all this. It was important for the explorers to maintain a sense of superiority. There was a fear of "going native." Of course, the British celebrate their failures. Franklin's tragic expeditions were symbolic of all that was wrong with traditional polar exploration. His first lost 11 men, the second, all 129. He could not understand the reluctance of the natives to join his adventure. "...their caution forms a singular contrast with the ready and thoughtless [my emphasis:] manner in which an English seaman enters upon any enterprise, however hazardous, without inquiring or desiring to know where he is going, or what he is about." Franklin is still eulogized.Contrast Franklin's remark with this characterization of the Norwegian Nansen: "daring but never rash; bold but never impulsive; fatalistic but never foolhardy; poetic but never naive." It remained for Peary and the Norwegians (among others) to adopt native skills and successfully adapt to the harsh environment. That is not to say that all became easy. They still suffered (Peary lost most of his toes on one trip), but they survived and returned.Berton believes that neither Cook nor Peary reached the North Pole. Next to read is Herbert's biography of Peary and the controversy which still rages. (Of course, Herbert may be slightly biased, for if Peary did not reach the Pole, then Herbert was the first to do so in 1983 by dog-sled.

  • Jennifer
    2019-02-22 08:55

    what a great book!!! pierre berton is an excellent storyteller and it would seem he is also an impeccable researcher. that's no surprise!! shamefully, this is the first time i have read a berton book. OOPS!! he definitely came up during my time in elementary and secondary school, but we were never actually given any of his books to read/study. weird, right??an important video you need to watch so you understand the level of awesome of pierre berton, and one of the many reasons why he was so beloved in canada: what's the best way to roll a joint? "it's a tragedy we all want to avoid!!" YOU GUYS!!! come on!!!but i digress....heh!!!having studied the arctic in school, as well as having had the chance to travel to the arctic on an exchange in high school (holman, on victoria island in 1983!! though it's since been renamed to ulukhaktok), it's been a place that has always fascinated me. not to the point where i have ever felt the urge to, you know, make a dash for the north pole on skis, or anything like that, but there is a mysteriousness and intrigue about life in the high arctic. so i was thrilled to discover this book and that it was such an excellent portrayal of the lives and challenges these men faced in trying to achieve their dreams.i was so amazed by the overwhelming lack of preparedness with which the majority of the expeditions undertook their quests. the british expeditions were stubbornly and fatally wrong-headed in not learning from their inuit contacts and judging the inuit, while useful to them, 'savages' and 'unintelligent'. roald amundsen was one explorer who 'went native' during his time in the arctic. he valued the inuit people he brought onto his team, he adapted their ways for clothing and shelther and sustenance. he was the only explorer who actually thrived and gained weight while wintering in the arctic (locked in by ice, waiting for a thaw that would allow passage). roald amundsen is my favourite explorer (who knew?! haha!!) he was smart and patient and treated everyone the same way - all were equal. previous british expeditions were mostly led by navy men. and most insisted on living by rank and dictatorship conditions, along with british ways of life (clothing, food, expectations...). these expeditions never fared well. at all. it seemed, at one point, ridiculous to me that men were suffering scurvy, dreadfully ill, trying their best to not lose their minds...and yet there is disappointment when the last bottle of champagne was uncorked in the officers' quarters. seriously.this book is a bit like being locked in on ice in the winter -- it's a slow read and one with which you may need a bit of patience. but this is not a complaint or a criticism. i enjoyed every moment of reading this book and i liked that it slowed me down and gave me time to imagine and consider the lives of the people berton has written about. one point i like the most, i think, was the fact that berton gave so much credit to the inuit in his book, along with some lesser-known expedition members. so many people did not get the attention they deserved.and one last note: cook and peary were asshats, you guys! like -- possibly full-out liars, definitely exaggerators, manipulative and of dubious character. i had inklings of this before going in to the read...but mostly, i had no idea.

  • Jenny
    2019-03-21 04:55

    The amount of research and content in this book is amazing and it was not the least bit boring or dry. How can you not get sucked in by these fantastic stories of heroism, tragedy, and egotistic competition? Each time I read of a truly amazing story, either of survival or tragedy, I would think "someone needs to make a movie about that". Then, in the next chapter, I would think the same thing all over again. I will try to stop complaining about the cold Maine winters by remembering the Greely expedition starving on the ice or Robert Peary's frostbitten toes falling off.

  • Teri
    2019-03-17 04:15

    There is something about 19th century Arctic exploration that fascinates me. Ross, Franklin, Parry, Rae, and the list goes on. Berton's exhaustive and entertaining account of these "heroes" of the Arctic will satisfy the most curious-minded readers. If you enjoyed the Nova special "Frozen in Time" or Dan Simmons' Terror (a fictionalized account of the voyage of the Erebus and the Terror), you will find this very thick book highly engaging.

  • Julie Ferguson
    2019-02-23 02:58

    A bit of a slog after two thirds read - the parade of Arctic expeditions are hard to keep separate. Good treatment of the disastrous Franklin effort, which was done retrospectively by following the search parties that eventually revealed the truth. I am happy to have read it and surprised I hadn't before.

  • Jennifer
    2019-03-22 05:17

    After most of the world was explored and conquered, all that remained were the poles. The North Pole and the Arctic were virtually unexplored and uncharted. The few who had ventured forth into those waters never returned or experienced unheard-of tragedies. This book chronicles the voyages and treks that various explorers underwent as they ventured into the Arctic Circle. Utilizing their journals, maps, interviews and other first-hand materials from the time, Mr. Berton has compiled a thorough analysis of the discovery of this area. The narrative is very reader friendly and not too detailed that it becomes dry. This was an era of human drama – human versus environment and sometimes even human. He carefully chronicles the struggles and the mysteries. With an emphasis on the Franklin disappearance and rescue work, this book unveils the difficulties that each person experienced through their lack of planning, foresight, or preparedness. The human cost seems horrifying especially when a vast majority of it was caused due to the explorer’s (or investors) unwillingness to “go native”. This book is an incredible journey into the great white North. It is a remarkable combination of human histories, tragedy and remarkable success. It is the untold or seemingly forgotten story of the native peoples who saved many of the explorers’ lives and also helped in them conquering the ice and sea. I definitely recommend this book to any lover of history or adventure.

  • Anita
    2019-03-25 11:05

    This took my a long time to read as I kept going back trying to look at maps and refresh the names of all the many many explorers and ships. I finally just had to forge on and just keep reading. I appreciated the honesty in this book. What I learned was that fewer people would have died if explorers had been willing to listen to the locals and past explorers, and share credit with each other and the Inuit. I suppose it was the ruthless ambition that kept these men going, otherwise the Passage would not have been mapped. It was fascinating how many of the lands/channels/bays were not even named for the explorers but instead their benefactors-men who never even set foot in the north. I would recommend this book just for the history lessons. Who really was the first to reach the North Pole?-maybe not who we credit. I will say I do wish to read more about some of these men(and women) such as Roald Amundsen . Another thing-sometimes its okay to ask for directions. It could shave a year off your trip. LOL

  • Jim
    2019-02-24 02:50

    Pierre Berton presents a single volume overview of Arctic exploration in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Starting with the British in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars when the Royal Navy was desperate to find something to do for the ludicrious amount of officers it had idealing about, to the more practical Hudson's Bay Company attempting to justify its continued monopoly, to the Tragedy and Search for Sir John Franklin which brought forth remarkable men from Britain, the United States and France as well as the HBC and Lady Franklin's indomitable resolve to find her husband, to the more practical Norwegians explorers of the late 19th century, culminating with the bitter rivalry between Robert Peary and Frederick Cook to claim the North Pole, if ether man indeed did. A good start for those looking to delve into the history of the Canadian Arctic.

  • cee
    2019-03-08 10:18

    god this was so much fun...excellent storytelling wrapped around a core of "if people have lived in $place for thousands of years ask them how they did it before running off into the great unknown". cover looks boring but contents are 100% riveting and fun, good job of making all the people discussed really feel genuine

  • Holly
    2019-03-11 02:58

    Such a great book - great overview of the entire period in which arctic exploration was at it's height - it was nice to read the stuff pre and post Franklin (a period I'm already very familiar with). I was going to knock a star off for Berton's excessive use of the term "Eskimo" which was already not being used by 1988 when the book was written and I found very off putting, however he explained his reasoning in the afterward.

  • Laura
    2019-03-22 08:55

    I never knew how fascinated I was in Polar exploration until this book

  • Dr.J.G.
    2019-03-02 06:49

    The beautiful photograph of Arctic ocean on the cover makes one wish one was there, and the description makes one wish one could get the book immediately, or even better, that it was a DVD with extensive arctic scenery. The quest of a northwest passage reminds one of the recent summer opening of a northwest passage north of Canada and the environmental worries about a what if - certainly any usage of the passage for commercial nature will only make matters worse for global warming related questions. The faster the arctic melts the sooner the vanishing of coastal cities and towns near and far, and some whole nations as well, low lying countries that is. Arctic Grail tells about all those that ventured forth in the quest of The arctic passage and north pole, British and Scandinavians, and those that perished and those that arrived. The very names thrill one.

  • Lisa Llamrei
    2019-03-01 09:59

    "The Arctic Grail" covers a century of Arctic exploration by the British, Canadians, Scandinavians, and Americans.This is the first Pierre Berton book I have ever read and, having now done so, I can't imagine why I waited so long. His research is exhaustive, using letters written by and about the participants in the various Arctic voyages. He is thus able to convey a sense of the personality of everyone involved, allowing the reader to care about the "characters". This makes the book read more like a novel than a history.Berton has done much to right a historic wrong by giving credit where it is due; for example, to the Inuit, without whom many more British lives would have been lost, and the Hudson Bay traders who knew the land and how to live on it.This represents an important piece of Canadian history.

  • Alex
    2019-03-09 03:49

    I spent nearly two weeks reading this book. They were two weeks well-spent. Berton is great at describing Arctic explorers and adventures and how all their stories link together in one grander Arctic narrative. He also emphasises the importance of native peoples at the Poles and how they helped to save a lot of dumb white explorers.This is a fat book but it never felt that long, if only because Berton's descriptions and analyses of each journey are so engrossing. If you want more detail on, say, Franklin or Rae or Peary, you'd do well to read an individual biography of each. But as an overview of polar history, this is excellent, and has given me a lot of ideas for my own writing. Highly recommend.

  • Brian Gilchrist
    2019-03-18 07:56

    An easy five star rating to give. Berton's writing is fabulous,and leads us on a remarkable tale of those who searched for both the passage and the pole. There are books about Franklin and books about Peary, but seldom do you find both in one book,but to combine with those that came before, searched, or failed is brilliant. we know about McClintock and Rae from their inclusion in accounts of the Franklin search,but what about Ballot, Green, Nares, Andree or Fiala? This is a wonderful book for anyone interested in polar exploration or history in general. Highly recommended.

  • Ron
    2019-02-22 07:09

    Pierre Berton's greatest gift was popularizing history (mostly Canadian history). From the search for the Northwest Passage to the quest for the North Pole, Berton chronicles the adventurers who braved the unforgiving Arctic. Some were brave and resourceful, others foolish yet gallant. As much as I love so many of his books, especially The National Dream/The Last Spike, The Arctic Grail is perhaps even better.

  • Teri Nolan
    2019-02-25 11:00

    There is something about 19th century Arctic exploration that fascinates me. Ross, Franklin, Parry, Rae, and the list goes on. Berton's exhaustive and entertaining account of these "heroes" of the Arctic will satisfy the most curious-minded readers. If you enjoyed the Nova special "Frozen in Time" or Dan Simmons' Terror (a fictionalized account of the voyage of the Erebus and the Terror), you will find this very thick book highly engaging.

  • Poindextra
    2019-03-07 08:57

    Wow - From the outside, this book like it will be dry and text-like (it's over 600 pages, as well). However, it's really a very interesting story, told very well by the author. I continues to amaze me how expedition after expedition suffered innumerable hardships because they refused to learn from the natives. I'd definitely recommend this to people who like books about travel/history/exploration.

  • Kevin Stevens
    2019-03-17 06:09

    My love for this type of book started over 20 years ago with a read of Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez. Arctic Grail is a must for any one interested in this area of history. This book lead me to many others on arctic exploration and also south pole adventures. As one who has set foot on the polar ship "Fram" the conditions these men endured is indeed a treat.I have a whole shelf dedicated to polar adventure books...this one was one of my favorites.

  • Megargee
    2019-03-17 09:11

    Now that global warming has opened passages through the Northern pack ice and planes daily fly over the North Pole, it is difficult to comprehend the challenge that Arctic Polar exploration posed two or three centuries ago. This book exhaustively details those Polar expeditions, some lasting years and some never returning, and the fortitude and determination of those early explorers.

  • Skot
    2019-03-16 08:49

    Fantastic storytelling. Quite a narrative of incredibly brave, incredibly foolhardy British explorers (and others) sailing off to their doom. Lots of astonishing tales of survival against ridiculous odds. Each one would make a good book (and in some cases has--see Stephen Heighton's "Afterlands"). Makes me want to read more Berton.

  • Meaghan
    2019-02-25 09:10

    I read this book on a complete whim. I had never read anything written by Pierre Berton or written about Arctic exploration until I brought this gem home. I could not put it down, once I finished it I turned I went back to Page One and read the whole thing again. I couldn't recommend this more wholeheartedly!

  • Travis King
    2019-03-05 05:17

    A surprisingly riveting account of the men who quested for the Northwest Passage and the North Pole. The book details the efforts of the capable and the less-than-capable men that were willing to freeze their posteriors for the fame of the unknown.

  • Heidi
    2019-03-22 08:13

    This was a long & difficult read, but worth the effort. Extremely comprehensive history of all the attempts to reach the North Pole by expeditions from many nations, including the one that ultimately succeeded.

  • Anthony Meaney
    2019-03-18 04:04

    Outstanding book. Great primer for those interested in Arctic exploration books. Exhaustive (and at time exhausting) outline of almost every expedition to the Arctic in the quest to find the Northwest Passage and the North Pole.

  • Sean MacUisdin
    2019-03-02 03:02

    It's been a while since I've read this book, and having finished Fury Beach which chronicled John Ross' four years in the Arctic, I figured I'd better reread this one.

  • Cws
    2019-02-23 10:11


  • Joseph
    2019-03-16 06:10

    unforgettable, beautifully told history of arctic exploration.

  • Jean L.
    2019-03-10 09:14

    Too many of the British would-be Arctic explorers seemed to refuse to learn anything from their predecessors; Sir John Franklin's expedition was just one of many that needlessly ended in tragedy.