Fatal North: Murder Survival Aboard USS Polaris First US Expedition North Pole Info

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An in-depth account of the first U.S. expedition to the North
Pole describes a mission that ended in the suspicious death of its
leader, Charles Hall, and a desperate struggle for survival on the polar
ice, drawing on original Navy inquests into the disaster, autopsy and
forensic reports, personal journals, the ship's original log, and
more.

Average Ratings and Reviews
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4.52

687 Ratings

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Reviews for Fatal North: Murder Survival Aboard USS Polaris First US Expedition North Pole:

3

February 24, 2001

Fatal North: No footnotes, no bibliography
Fatal North is a compelling account of Charles Francis Hall's last expedition. Bruce Henderson does a good job of painting the personalities of the officers and crew, a number of whom never got along with Hall -- or one another.
But but the lack of any footnotes nor any bibliography makes the reader wonder whether parts of this drama actually occurred, or whether they flowed from Henderson's pen. Those seaching for a more scholarly account would do well to stick with Chauncy Loomis' landmark work, "Weird and Tragic Shores," and, of course, Pierre Burton's "Arctic Grail," which has an excellent chapter on Hall.
4

Mar 18, 2018

Really good. Nice look at the case as well as good use of first hand accounts.
5

Jul 30, 2015

I'm embarrassed to admit how long this book has been in my TBR pile. It didn't deserve that. It was great! Halfway through I found myself binge-reading in the middle of the night like a teenager with a new dystopia series. It's the true story of the 1870s era American quest to find the North Pole. The conflict and suspense created by staggering human incompetence paired with Mother Nature's abject domination of us lowly human beings rivals anything Michael Crichton ever came up with. I'd love to I'm embarrassed to admit how long this book has been in my TBR pile. It didn't deserve that. It was great! Halfway through I found myself binge-reading in the middle of the night like a teenager with a new dystopia series. It's the true story of the 1870s era American quest to find the North Pole. The conflict and suspense created by staggering human incompetence paired with Mother Nature's abject domination of us lowly human beings rivals anything Michael Crichton ever came up with. I'd love to see this made into a mini-series. The History Channel wouldn't have to gussy it up with fictional drama. We've got action, adventure, pride, greed, sloth, envy, gluttony, lust, theft, murder - did I leave out any sins? Lest you be too put off, there's also bravery and heroics on the part of a few to keep it from being a complete buzzkill. If you have someone you're trying to convince that history is NOT boring, buy them this book. ...more
5

May 3, 2015

Excellent read if you're into adventure
I've been on an Arctic/Antarctic exploration kick of late and really loved this book. These stories have a lot of players and can be difficult to follow as they switch from person to person but I didn't find that that was a problem with this book.

It's a thrilling and tragic story that's beautifully written and easy to read. I would definitely recommend giving it a try.
5

May 9, 2015

Fatal North
Enjoyed the story beginning to end. It is still hard to believe someone could survive 179 days on an
ice flow thru the arctic winter months. The arctic and antarctic explorers of the early 20th century
were truly amazing adventurers with stories of survival hard for us to comprehend these days. Hard to
stop reading once you begin...enjoy the story and all its twists and turns...
4

Oct 09, 2015

I didn't know the story of the Hall Arctic Expedition so it was all new and an exciting adventure, told well. The information for the account comes from the journal of one man, George Tyson, so he is the hero of the story and we see everything happening through his eyes. It couldn't have been otherwise as the other journals don't seem to have survived but I would have liked an acknowledgment of this problem in putting together an accurate account of the journey. Anyway I'm not challenging the I didn't know the story of the Hall Arctic Expedition so it was all new and an exciting adventure, told well. The information for the account comes from the journal of one man, George Tyson, so he is the hero of the story and we see everything happening through his eyes. It couldn't have been otherwise as the other journals don't seem to have survived but I would have liked an acknowledgment of this problem in putting together an accurate account of the journey. Anyway I'm not challenging the hero status of George Tyson. I would have liked some other journals or a discussion of their relevance. But all in all an amazing story of bravery, venality and endurance. A good read. ...more
3

Mar 01, 2015

3.5 stars is maybe more appropriate. If I line this book up with the wildly popular "In The Kingdom of Ice", I would have to give it 5 stars, as there is far more material here to chew on, and lots of intrigue, adding spice to the usual struggle against the ice one can and should expect. Henderson does a great job of drawing the characters. I know I have read of the Eskimo families who are a crucial part of the book, but never before felt that I understood them so well. A very interesting and 3.5 stars is maybe more appropriate. If I line this book up with the wildly popular "In The Kingdom of Ice", I would have to give it 5 stars, as there is far more material here to chew on, and lots of intrigue, adding spice to the usual struggle against the ice one can and should expect. Henderson does a great job of drawing the characters. I know I have read of the Eskimo families who are a crucial part of the book, but never before felt that I understood them so well. A very interesting and meaty book. ...more
5

August 3, 2013

Mystery, intrigue and discovery
Imagine trying to solve a murder nearly 100 years after it was committed, and even if you do who can you prosecute? This book is a well-written account of the first attempt at Polar exploration by an American expedition. The expedition was sanctioned by the Congress of the United States and supported by then President Ulysses S. Grant. The expedition was a colossal failure and was made further complicated by the death/murder of the expedition leader Charles Francis Hall. If that's not enough there is also a tale of survival,of eighteen members of the expedition who were left on an ice floe and who survived a brutal winter living in igloos and hunting seals. Their eventual rescue led to a botched Naval hearing that completely missed the possible murder of the leader. Highly recommended.
5

March 12, 2017

Incredible True Adventure! Unbelievable!
When the book begins "Captain" Hall's arctic grave is being dug up so that an autopsy can be done. Apparently, there were some who believed that Captain Hall did not die of natural causes, but was murdered. We are then treated to an incredibly interesting and sometimes difficult to read story of that expedition that was intended to get to the North Pole or much closer than the closest attempt at the time.

This is a story about people so evil and so rotten that it's difficult to believe that it is true. It's also a story of incredible courage and leadership in the most difficult circumstances.

I don't know how anyone can read this and give it a negative review.
5

August 20, 2015

Intrique and Survival at its Best
This is right up there with the accounts of the Shackleton and Franklin expeditions in Antarctica and in the search for the Northwest Passage, respectively. The book is well researched and well written. Survival for months on an ice flow under conditions that seem impossible and test the courage of the human spirit is just one amazing part of this adventure.
2

August 29, 2014

Nothing special
A good historical book at its best only because the story itself is interesting. After reading The Lost City of Z, I wanted to read a similar mysterious/exploration book, but I was very disappointed.

Like the title of the review states, there is nothing special to this book. You could just as well have read the story somewhere online.
4

Feb 16, 2019

You might also enjoy:

Arctic Explorers
Arctic Dreams
Farthest North
The Ice Master
Prisoners of the North
In the Land of White Death
True North: Peary, Cook, and the Race to the Pole
Ninety Degrees North: The Quest for the North Pole
In the Kingdom of Ice: The Voyage of the USS Jeannette

John Franklin: The Franklin Expedition
Fatal Passage: The True Story of John Rae
Frozen in Time: The Fate of the Franklin Expedition
Resolute: The Epic Search for the Northwest Passage

Ernest Shackleton: The You might also enjoy:

Arctic Explorers
✱ Arctic Dreams
✱ Farthest North
✱ The Ice Master
✱ Prisoners of the North
✱ In the Land of White Death
✱ True North: Peary, Cook, and the Race to the Pole
✱ Ninety Degrees North: The Quest for the North Pole
✱ In the Kingdom of Ice: The Voyage of the USS Jeannette

John Franklin: The Franklin Expedition
✱ Fatal Passage: The True Story of John Rae
✱ Frozen in Time: The Fate of the Franklin Expedition
✱ Resolute: The Epic Search for the Northwest Passage

Ernest Shackleton: The Endurance Expedition
✱ South: The Endurance Expedition
✱ Ice Captain: The Life of J.R. Stenhouse
✱ Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage
✱ The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition
✱ The Lost Men: The Harrowing Saga of Shackleton's Ross Sea Party

Shipwrecks & Castaways
✱ In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex
✱ 438 Days: An Extraordinary True Story of Survival at Sea
✱ Island of the Lost: Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World
✱ The Bounty: The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty
✱ Batavia's Graveyard
✱ Unbroken ...more
3

Jan 23, 2019

This is not the first account of the 1871 POLARIS expedition that I have read and I likely would have rated this one higher had I not first read Richard Parry’s 2001 TRIAL BY ICE, which was exceptional. Henderson’s 2014 telling is not as thorough with details and factual information about the Arctic, but does recount the story mostly from the eyes and words of the Assistant Navigator, George Tyson (who in both books appears to be the person who possessed the most clear thinking about how to This is not the first account of the 1871 POLARIS expedition that I have read and I likely would have rated this one higher had I not first read Richard Parry’s 2001 TRIAL BY ICE, which was exceptional. Henderson’s 2014 telling is not as thorough with details and factual information about the Arctic, but does recount the story mostly from the eyes and words of the Assistant Navigator, George Tyson (who in both books appears to be the person who possessed the most clear thinking about how to conduct the expedition and survive the ordeal, though his restraint in telling all his concerns at the hearing was disheartening, especially given the unjust results).
 
I was happy to see that Henderson included a map, which was sorely lacking in Parry’s telling. In addition, he included the names of the Inuit Eskimos in his “cast of characters” list, which was important to me, as they were some of the only reasons the crew survived and should receive due credit.
 
What nonsense it was for Commander Hall, who so yearned for the approval and funding for this expedition to state that he had “chosen his own men” who would “stand by me to the last” when both the Sailing Master Buddington and the Chief Scientist/Surgeon Bessels were far from his first choices, half the crew were not Americans, and almost none of the crew were servicemen on this U.S. Naval endorsed and sponsored expedition.
 
In addition to the actual attempts at reaching the North Pole, the infighting among the officers, scientists and crew, the probable murder, and the survival story, Henderson includes some interesting data, such as the common-sense survival aspects of marriage in Eskimo society.
 
The “aftermath” section in the back pages was much appreciated (especially in regards to Bessels and Tyson). A good read. ...more
5

Jul 17, 2019

Maybe not the best book to read just as I am preparing to leave for the Arctic but interesting. Quite sure I won't have to survive a winter confined by ice.

Interesting comment in the afterword about Grant being the most corrupt President in history because he named his friends to cabinet positions for which they were patently unqualified--for some reason that is all feeling very familiar.
4

Mar 02, 2012

I loved this adveture story. Ever since childhood I have been fascinated by exploration adventures, especially to the arctic/antarctic. I can't belive how unenthusisatic the people on this voyage were...why sign up to a trip to the north pole when you don't want to go? There was also a lot un unappreciation for those who were keeping them alive. I guess, in a desperate situation people allow there fear to turn them into morons!
5

Dec 14, 2016

A very cold case. Polar expedition adventure that's got pretty much everything. The reason for the expedition is the least interesting part of the book. The crew is so divided and untrustworthy that there's no way it's going to end well. The book only drags in a couple of spots, mostly I ripped through it. The author's other books are going to the top of my to read list.
4

Dec 26, 2017

Well in my opinion old school arctic explorers are the toughest SOB's ever. I dread over a cold toilet seat. -40 degrees? Not bloody likely. This event being well documented made for a really good book. I've read quite a few arctic exploration books and I never grow tired of them. This was a well written book and I would gladly recommend it to anyone.
4

Aug 23, 2014

Was the leader of the first US expedition to find the North Pole, Charles Hall, murdered by his own crew? An incredible tale of men at their ends and their polar (pardon) responses. Highly Recommended.
3

Jan 26, 2014

Considering the source material I think it would be hard to write a bad story about Charles F. Hall. It's one of those cases of the truth being stranger then fiction. However, I really didn't find anything new in the book. Well written, but the same story I've heard from other sources.
5

Jul 10, 2013

A very interesting tale of bravery, cowardice, loyalty, insubordination and a murder mystery that turns into a true-life tale of polar survival. Highly recommended if you enjoy true stories of arctic survival and adventure.
5

Jan 17, 2008

Fascinating account of polar expedition that resulted in the murder of the captain, discovered many years later following an exhumation of his perfectly preserved frozen body.
5

September 18, 2016

A great book!
This is a fascinating book that took you inside the minds of myriad characters, and that transports you to another time and place. Fantastic book!
5

August 1, 2016

To Be Continued...
I purchased this book about a month ago and unfortunately have only read a chapter or two. Life got in the way so I hope to finish reading the book sometime soon. Up to this point, the book has been quite interesting!
5

Mar 23, 2019

Bruce Henderson is a marvelous storyteller. From the first line I was hooked and wanted to know more about this century-old mystery of the Far North. I have read many books on Arctic exploration and travel from the mid 1800's to fairly recent, and I have never been as hooked as I was on the story of the Captain who most likely was murdered by one of his own officers accompanying him on his quest to reach the North Pole. The book opens with a trip to Hall's grave near Thank God Harbour to find Bruce Henderson is a marvelous storyteller. From the first line I was hooked and wanted to know more about this century-old mystery of the Far North. I have read many books on Arctic exploration and travel from the mid 1800's to fairly recent, and I have never been as hooked as I was on the story of the Captain who most likely was murdered by one of his own officers accompanying him on his quest to reach the North Pole. The book opens with a trip to Hall's grave near Thank God Harbour to find out the truth behind his early demise a hundred years earlier, but the true story is that of Captain George Tyson who successfully brought 18 survivors separated from the USS Polaris and floating on an ice floe for over six months, to safety. Of the 18, two Inuit hunters, their wives and children, were included. This book has it all: political intrigue, scientific study vs. adventure, cartography, infighting between German and American sailors, mutiny, drinking binges by one of the officers, a medical officer who was either inept or devious, talk of cannibalism (though it never came to that), survival on the ice for months, divided loyalties, dwindling supplies, and outright malfeasance.

I highly recommend this book. I enjoyed reading it thoroughly, as I enjoy everything I have read by Bruce Henderson. ...more
4

Dec 19, 2017

A great story about a forgotten tragedy. Bruce Henderson's blending of historical fact, personal diary, and narrative make this an excellent, if not slightly upsetting read. The final chapter puts a historical twist to the entire tale, which brings more questions than answers. However, as for the story itself. Henderson manages to capture the feel and mood of the historic voyage of the Polaris and subsequent events following the death of the captain (America's Livingstone, as one writer A great story about a forgotten tragedy. Bruce Henderson's blending of historical fact, personal diary, and narrative make this an excellent, if not slightly upsetting read. The final chapter puts a historical twist to the entire tale, which brings more questions than answers. However, as for the story itself. Henderson manages to capture the feel and mood of the historic voyage of the Polaris and subsequent events following the death of the captain (America's Livingstone, as one writer described him), the months stranded by the ice aboard ship, and the harrowing events of several months trapped on an ice floe through the dead of arctic winter. Henderson's chapters on the follow-up investigation was a bit dry in places, but even that fact sets the tone for the proceedings, which never successfully answered all the questions about the failed journey to reach the North Pole. All-in-all, this can be a very disturbing book for those who feel the emotions of the people in the tale. We should probably all be grateful for details that Henderson left out of some parts. ...more

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