Arctic Obsession: the Lure of the Far North

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Dundurn, Jan 1, 2011 - History - 306 pages
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More than an account of the human delusion and fortitude in penetrating one of the most inhospitable areas of the world, Arctic Obsession goes beyond the gripping history of northern exploration, of the searches for the Northwest and Northeast Passages.

From early medieval times to the twenty-first century, what has been the beguiling attraction of the North? What manner of men were they who boldly ventured into those hostile and unpredictable regions, scores never to return home, swallowed up by the merciless north.

Today's Arctic is developing into tomorrows hot spot. Arctic Obsession dwells on contemporary issues besetting the most fragile part of our globe global warming and environmental, ecological and geo-political concerns. The book also provides an overview of the entire Arctic region, from Canada, Russia, and Alaska to Greenland, Iceland, and the North Sea.


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Arctic Obsession: The Lure of the Far North

User Review  - Margaret Atwater-Singer - Book Verdict

The Arctic has long tantalized people's imaginations and Troubetzkoy (A Brief History of the Crimean War) seeks to explain why this lure is so strong. He starts with Pytheas, a fourth-century B.C.E ... Read full review

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Needed a Fact Checker
Within a few pages (pp. 211-13) the author makes several strange mistakes. He used the German spelling of Spitsbergen (with a “z”) instead of the correct Dutch spelling (and
in a quote!). It was in fact discovered by the Dutch and named by them. He asserts that Willem Barentsz’s 1596 expedition “encountered whales, many of them, and word of this find quickly spread”. In the two surviving accounts of his voyage (the second not published until 1613) mention is only made of encountering a single “large dead whale”. It was the English explorer Jonas Poole’s 1610 report of “a great store of whales” that led the English to send a whaling expedition there the following year and the successful voyage of a Spanish Basque expedition and an unsuccessful Dutch one in 1612 that led others to send vessels there the next season. He claims Spitsbergen had become a whaling center by 1615, when it had already become one by 1613; there were over 30 ships from several nations there that season. He gives the wrong date for the alleged discovery of Spitsbergen by Hugh Willoughby (1533 instead of 1553). He states that the Danish were the first to establish a settlement in the archipelago, when the English were the first to establish a temporary whaling station there in 1611 and the Dutch the first permanent station in 1615. He says Smeerenburg was established on “Amsterdam°ya Island” (a common misnomer for those unacquainted with Norwegian; “°ya” means “the island”, “a” being the definite article) in 1625, when it had been established in 1619. He repeats the outdated assertions that Smeerenburg included bakeries and taverns, claims made years after the fact (similar claims were first made in 1720, embellished in 1820, and elaborated in the 1890s and early 1900s); archaeological investigations carried out in 1979-81 have shown these claims to be false. Despite making these claims, he correctly states that 200 men lived and worked ashore at any one time—information he could have obtained only through the results of those investigations, showing he was aware of them but still made the above mistakes! He further states there were “twenty cookeries” (tryworks), when there were only seven double tryworks and one single tryworks—he appears to have mistaken the total number of buildings (18-19, including the fort) that formed Smeerenburg with the number of cookeries.
And finally, he repeats the dubious claim of the discovery of Jan Mayen by Henry Hudson in 1608 (re. 1607), asserting that the section of his log containing its discovery had been “gutted” by Hudson for “whatever reason”. The first published claim comes from a portion of Samuel Purchas’s 1625 work, in which Thomas Edge, in recounting the English whaling trade, stated that one “William (sic) Hudson” had discovered it in 1608. In the very same work, Purchas includes the only surviving account of Hudson’s 1607 voyage (the only time he could have even come across it), and there is absolutely no mention of its discovery. Nor is there any mention of it during his 1608 voyage—the first documented discovery of the island came in 1614.
If this many mistakes were made within a couple of pages, imagine how many the author has made throughout the book! You should pass on this book if you care at all for accuracy.



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About the author (2011)

Alexis S. Troubetzkoy, the scion of a Russian princely family, has served as executive director of the Tolstoy Foundation and as the Russian representative for the International Orthodox Christian Charities. He is the author of "Imperial Legend, the Disappearance of Tsar Alexander I" and "A Brief History of the Crimean War." He lives in Toronto.

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