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:

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
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
4

Feb 16, 2019

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Arctic Explorers
✱ Arctic Dreams
✱ Farthest North
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✱ 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
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✱ Ice Captain: The Life of J.R. Stenhouse
✱ Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage
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✱ 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

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
5

Dec 18, 2016

Death is nothing new in arctic expeditions. When compared with most early treks to the frozen north this, the first U.S. expedition to the North Pole, was almost death free. But it wasn't free of mismanagement, mutinous behavior or other serious problems that could prove fatal. Like many such polar adventures timing is of critical importance to take advantage daylight and open sea lanes. Early signs of disruptive hidden agendas or personnel issues might be overlooked because a delay of a few Death is nothing new in arctic expeditions. When compared with most early treks to the frozen north this, the first U.S. expedition to the North Pole, was almost death free. But it wasn't free of mismanagement, mutinous behavior or other serious problems that could prove fatal. Like many such polar adventures timing is of critical importance to take advantage daylight and open sea lanes. Early signs of disruptive hidden agendas or personnel issues might be overlooked because a delay of a few days could easily result in the loss of an entire season. Without the selfless sacrifice and dedicated leadership of a very few individuals the expedition would have become a notorious failure rather than a minor footnote in the history arctic adventures. This is a great story, thoroughly researched and well written I recommend it. In fact, I've added several other books by the author to my reading list. ...more
5

Jul 30, 2018

excellent - expert research went into this book. I really could not put it down!
5

Apr 12, 2018

Great Read

I really enjoyed this book. It was interesting and well written and I couldn't put it down! Will read more by this author.
3

Oct 06, 2015

The book is a combination of Arctic exploration story (the 1871 Polaris expedition) and murder mystery (the leader of the expedition, Charles Hall, dies under mysterious circumstances). There are the usual fascinating historical figures (the captain, crew, scientists, Eskimos), but this group had more than its fair share of people with questionable motives and morals. Modern day science (60's) science is brought in to conclusively prove whether or not Hall was murdered, and while conclusive, the The book is a combination of Arctic exploration story (the 1871 Polaris expedition) and murder mystery (the leader of the expedition, Charles Hall, dies under mysterious circumstances). There are the usual fascinating historical figures (the captain, crew, scientists, Eskimos), but this group had more than its fair share of people with questionable motives and morals. Modern day science (60's) science is brought in to conclusively prove whether or not Hall was murdered, and while conclusive, the revelation isn't very surprising or satisfying.

The chapters about part of the crew's fight to survive in the Arctic are the best part of the book. I'm always amazed at what people could endure and recover from in such savage conditions. The final chapters about the inquiry into the events of the expedition were too long and tedious except for the clear evidence that the Board of Inquiry simply did not want to know what really happened. I did appreciate the little summaries on some of the main characters and how their lives went after the events in the book.

...more
4

Jan 01, 2016

Unlike Chauncy Loomis' classic work on the life and expeditions of John Francis Hall, the author focuses on Hall's final and failed Polaris expedition that attempted to attain the north pole.

The most salient point that comes through in this book (but did not in the Loomis book) is that the fate of the Polaris after Hall's death (probably by murder) was due to the ineptitude, cowardice and drunken state of the captain, Sydney Buddington, rather than the vagaries of the ice conditions that doomed Unlike Chauncy Loomis' classic work on the life and expeditions of John Francis Hall, the author focuses on Hall's final and failed Polaris expedition that attempted to attain the north pole.

The most salient point that comes through in this book (but did not in the Loomis book) is that the fate of the Polaris after Hall's death (probably by murder) was due to the ineptitude, cowardice and drunken state of the captain, Sydney Buddington, rather than the vagaries of the ice conditions that doomed so many other polar expeditions, both arctic and antarctic.

In concluding Bruce Henderson mentions briefly that Robert Peary attained the north pole in 1909. About six years after this book was published Henderson published another book, True North, that like many others, debunks Peary's claim and makes a very strong case that Frederick Cook did make it. ...more
3

May 16, 2010

I bought this book on a whim when the used bookstore I was at had no Jon Krakauer books in the "cold/winter adventure" section. I assumed it would be interesting, but average over all. In the end I am glad I didn't have high expectations because I was able to simply read and enjoy this book.

The author's foreshadowing sometimes gave away major points in the story and the map in the front of the book basically told the entire outline before I even started the book. I would avoid looking at the I bought this book on a whim when the used bookstore I was at had no Jon Krakauer books in the "cold/winter adventure" section. I assumed it would be interesting, but average over all. In the end I am glad I didn't have high expectations because I was able to simply read and enjoy this book.

The author's foreshadowing sometimes gave away major points in the story and the map in the front of the book basically told the entire outline before I even started the book. I would avoid looking at the map until the end of the book.

This book was much more interesting than I had anticipated. It is a quick read and exciting. I would recommend it to anyone who likes military, history, winter exploration, adventure or mystery novels. ...more
5

May 13, 2010

Fatal North explores the mysteries surrounding the first US north pole expedition. The ill-fated voyage included minor discord amongst the crew, the captain's death, eighteen crew members being stranded on an ice floe, the ship's evacuation and then sinking, and the eventual investigation into the foregoing affairs.

In this book author Henderson, investigates all matters related to the voyage through, original transcripts of investigations by the Navy, the captain's personal papers and journals Fatal North explores the mysteries surrounding the first US north pole expedition. The ill-fated voyage included minor discord amongst the crew, the captain's death, eighteen crew members being stranded on an ice floe, the ship's evacuation and then sinking, and the eventual investigation into the foregoing affairs.

In this book author Henderson, investigates all matters related to the voyage through, original transcripts of investigations by the Navy, the captain's personal papers and journals of various crewmen, and autopsy and forensic reports.

A great read for adventure writing fans!!! ...more
5

Sep 22, 2015

Loved this book. A fine adventure tale about one of the earliest attempts to reach the North Pole. The author has combined information from a lot of sources and makes a very persuasive case for Murder. So many incompetents on the boat and crew, and there are a few definite heroes (many of which were the Eskimo guides) as well as much bumbling and ineptitude by those in the Grant Administration when it came to staffing the boat and the inquiry. Fast moving, well written with enough source Loved this book. A fine adventure tale about one of the earliest attempts to reach the North Pole. The author has combined information from a lot of sources and makes a very persuasive case for Murder. So many incompetents on the boat and crew, and there are a few definite heroes (many of which were the Eskimo guides) as well as much bumbling and ineptitude by those in the Grant Administration when it came to staffing the boat and the inquiry. Fast moving, well written with enough source material quoted to make this a fascinating study of an ill-fated attempt in the 1870's to reach the pole. ...more
5

May 11, 2014

Thoroughly absorbed in this book.

An engrossing book that's hard to get out of your mind when through with the nights reading. Easy to read and visualize the events as they occurred. I recommend this book to anyone interested in nautical history. This book has a blend of history, mystery, drama and is a story of survival against incredible odds.

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