The Ice Master: The Doomed 1913 Voyage of the Karluk Info

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The Karluk set out in 1913 in search of an undiscovered
continent, with the largest scientific staff ever sent into the Arctic.
Soon after, winter had begun, they were blown off course by polar
storms, the ship became imprisoned in ice, and the expedition was
abandoned by its leader. Hundreds of miles from civilization, the
castaways had no choice but to find solid ground as they struggled
against starvation, snow blindness, disease, exposure--and each other.
After almost twelve months battling the elements, twelve survivors were
rescued, thanks to the heroic efforts of their captain, Bartlett, the
Ice Master, who traveled by foot across the ice and through Siberia to
find help.
Drawing on the diaries of those who were rescued and
those who perished, Jennifer Niven re-creates with astonishing accuracy
the ill-fated journey and the crews desperate attempts to find a way

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Reviews for The Ice Master: The Doomed 1913 Voyage of the Karluk:


October 6, 2004

Can't finish it... innacurate information.
I love polar exploration literature. But when I read on page 58 that the men aboard the Karluk were disheartened by the story of George Washington DeLong's expedition in 1879, and how the crew of the Jeannette had all perished (all 13 of them!!!) Anyone who knows their polar exploration literature knows very well that quite a few of the Jeannette's crew actually survived in one of the most amazing "triumph of the human spirit" stories in polar history. The entire world was shocked when they turned up alive in Siberia well after they'd been given up for dead. To misrepresent this story of survival as a doomed expedition from which no one survived as a way to explain the mounting dread in the Karluk's men ruined this book for me. What else escaped the fact-checkers? I am stopping at page 60, and picking up a copy of "The Log of Bob Bartlett" instead. Also, how can you have a book on arctic exploration without a map of the ship's route!???!

September 11, 2014

There are much better books on polar exploration out there; too many author faux pas in this one
I've read many, many books on polar exploration, & must say this is not one of the best. There are a number of occasions where the author makes dramatic sounding statements (like "That was the last straw!" or "As far as he was concerned this was the point of no return") without making it clear whether she somehow knew that's what the person was thinking, or whether it was just her interpretation of things. They struck me as being put in for dramatic effect. Generally, polar exploration pre-WWII or so had enough incredible stuff going on that it doesn't need extra boosts for drama.

Another authorial tendency that really annoyed me was how she described their actions when the ship was nipped in the ice; when the ice would get really active & loud & they'd panic, thinking she was going to get crushed, the group would go into a panic and rush around madly sewing their clothes & repacking their tea. Every crisis, out come the sewing needles & the tea re-packing stuff...that frigging tea apparently got repacked about a dozen times, and nobody --neither the author nor the people involved-- noticed that they were putting tea into boxes then into cans then into wood cases then into tin the very least, the author should've noticed this idiotic repacking if it really happened over & over, or not repeated it for (again) dramatic effect. Also, what did the guys do with the clothes between crises? Throw 'em into the corner saying, "Oh goody, the ship didn't sink so no need to worry about finishing THAT stuff" & go back to card playing? There are a number of things like this in the book that make no sense at all, & it's not clear whether the guys were just ice-crazed &/or morons or the author was trying way too hard to make things suspenseful. She managed to sort of rewind & replay events that really were suspenseful & terrifying & just render them redundant & idiotic. After one crisis, Niven writes "The men retired, on edge, to their cabins, and waited for the worst to come." Which really does make it sound as if they sat around between panics & did absolutely nothing. Granted, I've read about people trapped in polar regions doing some weird & crazy things, but I'm not convinced here whether the explorers were doofuses (doofi?) or the author was just clumsy.

IMO, the best thing about the book is where the author quotes the apparent Inuit translation of the 23rd Psalm, which I find hilarious, whether true or not (p 67 in the 2000 paperback):
"The Lord is my great keeper; He does not want me. He shoots me down on the beach, & pushes me into the water."

This is so wonderful it nearly makes up for the problems with the writing....but not quite. Here, I've given it to you for free. One other good thing is there is a map at the beginning, so you can actually trace the route. It's astounding how many of these books do NOT include a map.

Some other, really good polar exploration books are:
-"Where the Sea Breaks its Back" (about the Bering expedition, where Georg Steller named all those critters), or
-Ernest Shackleton's "South" (the 1914 expedition that went south, so to speak, & the incredible story of what they did to survive), or
-Matthew Hensen's "A Negro Explorer at the North Pole," written by Peary's right hand man, which is not as nail-biting as some of the tales, but Hensen has a witty style that's wonderful, and it really shows some details of Arctic survival (at which he was unsurpassed) or
-"The Ghosts of Cape Sabine" (the story of the Greeley Expedition, which could be subtitled "How not to explore the North Pole.")
-"Frozen in Time" (a forensic look at some of the bodies of members of the Franklin expedition, with a fascinating theory on what may've doomed that expedition...particularly interesting in view of the fact that Canadian researchers just found one of Franklin's ships [Sept 2014])

happy exploring!

June 10, 2015

Mostly a pretty good read.
I am going to disagree with many of the reviewers here and say that while I liked this book and would probably recommend it I would also say that it is about 100 pages longer than it needed to be. There is a lot of detail from the men's journals and it is interesting to a point but as the book moves into the last 2 months of these peoples ordeal it just begins to repeat itself over and over again. I guess that makes sense but I started skipping pages at the end up until the actual rescue as nothing new was to be learned from this story of survival. I thought it might have been interesting to know more about what happened to the expeditions leader in the aftermath. He should have been sent to prison! But maybe nothing was there because nothing of consequence happened to him. Very little is said about this subject at the end of the book.

January 15, 2002

Somewhat unbelievable to say the on
This book is very gipping but there are parts I definatley cannot believe. I read many outdoor adventure books and find some things about this story disturbing. How can a person be crossing a frozen ocean in 40 degress below zero temps wearing only muckluks and deerskins and fall through a lead of water and get totally submerged and then continue on travelling for hours only to rest for the evening in a frozen igloo? Noone could survive the elements. The cover of the book reads Into Thin Air meets Titanic. If you read Jon Krakaurs book "Into Thin Air" you will note similar disturbing conditions with whiteouts in which some people including Rob Hall freeze to death! and they had the best gear money could buy! Jennifer, I know you take this info from first hand accounts but I think they stretched the truth a bit. Otherwise, very well written!!!

July 1, 2016

I usually enjoy books like this one
I usually enjoy books like this one. This was OK, but I didn't enjoy it nearly as much as I've enjoyed almost all of the other books that that I've read about similar subjects. The fact that the author was factually wrong when it came to her account of the Voyage of the USS Jeanette, (She wrote that the Jeanette's crew all died before reaching land even though most of the made it to the Lena Delta and some of them got back to The United States.) made me question her how much research she actually put into this volume. The fact that many if not most of the crew members of this ship weren't very likeable didn't do much to pull me into the story.
Not a bad book, but I've read quite a few books like this that thought were far better.

January 9, 2002

Surprisingly Boring
The Ice Master starts off to be very interesting when Jennifer Niven talks of their expedition but in the middle of the book of she writes about the hardships the crew went through it got boring. She kept on writing about the same hardships over and over. For example, she writes constintly about how cold they were. I knew that the first few times she wrote about it. Every new chapter I began to read just sounded like the one I just finished.
I could not finish the book. If you want to read about an artic expedition I do not suggest this book.

April 13, 2011

"It is here one learns what discipline means; the North is a hard school"---William McKinlay (Karluk survivor)
"The Ice Master" was a joy to read and this reader was sad to see it end. It is an exciting story, very well-written and told in such a way that this reader was surprised when, at one point in the book, certain crew members did not survive. In 1913, famed explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson took the fishing ship Karluk, captained by Robert Bartlett, an Eskimo family and the largest scientific crew to date on a quest to find an undiscovered continent to the north. Stefansson was impatient to leave and did not worry about The Karluk being ill equipped to handle ice nor did he bother with making sure proper provisions were acquired or that all the pemmican supply was tested. While the Karluk was stuck in the ice, Stefansson took several crew members and abandoned the ship to look for his continent leaving Capt. Bartlett and a crew inexperienced in Arctic conditions on a ship destined to sink. What followed was a story of defiance, perseverance, suffering, death, deception, mystery, and survival.

Jennifer Niven did an excellent job with the sources to reveal the personalities of the officers and crew members. Some were painted in a very bad light. Stefansson, in particular, was not respected by Capt. Bartlett and much of the crew and seemed to regard the lives of his party as secondary to his goals. Several scientists had little respect for Bartlett and created their own clique that would eventually leave the rest of the crew and go their own way. When Bartlett left for Siberia to find help, he put in charge an officer described as very lazy with a lack of leadership skills. With the captain gone, discipline sometimes broke down. Some crew members stole food from others--even from the little Eskimo girls. There was even a possible murder. Much was written on scientists Bjarne Mamen and William McKinlay due to their large contribution to the source material. They, along with Capt. Bartlett, were the most likable of the story; however, much of the story was told from their point of view.

As another reviewer noted, a factual error is found in this book regarding the lack of survivors on the Jeanette which, in the late 1800s, had taken a similar route as the Karluk. The diary of the Jeanette's captain George Washington De Long was eagerly read by the scientists who decided to break away from Bartlett and his party. An incorrect name is used at the top of page 343--"Maurer, Chafe, and Templeman" should be "Maurer, Munro, and Templeman." One other criticism is the repetition throughout the book in both content and style. Many times Niven used the phrase that a crew member would pray something would happen or would not happen, sometimes in the same paragraph. She sited many times that Mamen did not know how their situation would end and then, on page 250, she wrote "for the first time [Mamen] truly could not imagine how it would all end." Specific hardships of the crew were also repeated many times. The repetition did, however, prolong a book which this reader looked forward to opening from beginning to end, so a star will not be deducted from the score.

May 28, 2009

Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage

The author does a fine job of portraying the personalities/eccentricities of the explorers and not merely the physical hardships endured. A good read.

July 7, 2013

One disaster after another
This is a difficult story to tell because of the activities of the members didn't vary much from day to day. It was an incredibly difficult experience for everyone start to finish. It was a story that needed to be told, but a difficult read. Kudos to Ms. Niven for her patience in mastering the sources. You knew all along at least some would be rescued, but it was good to see how it ended. I did plug through to the end. It was a relief.

September 4, 2017

Great read!
It's the second time I've read this book. First time in hard copy, second time in Kindle. One must also read the other book by Jennifer Niven as well: Ada Blackjack. These farcical polar 'explorations' IF they can be called that, takes place years apart, Ada Blackjack polar debacle toom place after the Karluk debacle. Both being 'lead by" the infamous Vilhjalmur Stefansson. Anyone who hitched their wagon to Stefansson was a doomed person. He was the epitome of ego and vanity. The tragic stories laid out in this book (the doom of the Karluk) and the later book (Ada Blackjack, sole survivor of the Wrangel Island farce) are excellent. Both are great books. Don't miss reading Jennifer Niven's "Ada Blackjack". One poor schmuck who survived the Karluk actually signed up for the Wrangel Island debacle (Ada Blackjack book) and died on that last fateful "exploration". Mind you, Stefansson was no where to be seen. He SENDS people to die. He doesn't actually GO with them. And SPOILER ALERT: when he DOES GO, he abandons his crew to die, and saves himself. Yeah, true.

February 27, 2019

Thoroughly covers the scurrilous actions of V. Steffanson
There is an exciting story and a portrayal of a real hero, the Ice Master, and the book thoroughly covers the scurrilous actions of V. Steffanson both in negligent preparation and in deserting "his" expedition.
Interestingly, Steffanson seems to have escaped retribution for this, as he ended up in a cushy job at Dartmouth College / CRREL.

Too bad the TV show, in which this author features, doesn't cover Steffanson's treachery at all.

October 3, 2013

Enthralling, epic tale
This story while not as widely known as Shackleton's adventure in the Antarctic is just as engrossing. The author does a fantastic job and it's hard to imagine someone doing a better job of tying together multiple sources to weave a story that makes you feel like you were there with this group. I felt emotionally invested in the outcome and identified with the characters within this crew. This is a rare accomplishment to not only tell a story, tell it well but also to care about the events as they transpire. One of the best books I've read in a very long time (would also include "Frozen In Time" in this). It was surreal reading this book on vacation in Key West! Kudos to the author to transforming a massive amount of research into a compelling story. The author's dedication to the subject matter comes shining through - excellent work!
I don't believe I can add much to the other previous reviews but this is my take on this great book.

October 26, 2014

One of the best, albeit least known accounts of arctic exploration
One of the best, albeit least known accounts of arctic exploration, I've ever read. I was rivited by the remarkable tale of the ill-fated
Karluk, and the incredible will of the scientists and crew to survive. The greed and blind ambition of the expedition's leader that
put these people in harm's way is well documented and will leave the reader incensed. After the read, my curiosity prompted more
google research including old photos of the Karluk and the people involved. I found the Ice Master intensly exciting, facsinating,
and ultimately, disturbing.

May 10, 2008

Could not put it down!
This is one of the most gripping stories I have ever read. Jennifer Niven has done an astounding job of sifting through original source materials and weaving them into a coherent and riveting narrative. At times heartbreaking and gruesome, it is always told with sensitivity and a sense of grace, even when she describes the fates of the dogs and cat that accompanied the party. She strikes the perfect balance between factual exposition and character description, so that we not only have a solid sense of the historical and scientific context of the expedition, but we care deeply about the members of the party (or, to an equal degree, revile them). The extreme conditions, while exacerbating character flaws and weaknesses in the party, also brought out the strength and resiliency of the human spirit in others, making this book not only interesting but inspirational.

March 27, 2015

Amazing tragedy!
A very well written biography of an unfortunate & incredible incident set in motion by an uncaring 'explorer' interested only in promoting his own name. He set out on a voyage to explore the North Pole regions only to abandon his ship & crew when the 'going got tough'. This is the amazing account of the struggles & determination of those left behind. I won't 'spoil' anymore of it! Read it! Also read "Ada Blackjack", if you haven't already. The 'nut' set up another exploration a few years later.....
Jennifer Niven writes both with "can't put it down" expertise!

October 16, 2013

The Ice is Master
A decent book about attempted polar exploration which was typically disastrous in that era. In this chapter of doomed polar exploration we meet Vilhjalmur Stefansson who organizes a Canadian sponsored attempt on the pole using the ship Karluk. After the ship gets frozen in ice Stefansson does what any expedition leader would do, he abandons his ship, it's men and the scientists who had accompanied him on the journey. The ship eventually gets destroyed and crushed by the shifting ice and the men embark on a survival journey. An interesting read that drags somewhat toward the latter third. But well worth reading.

November 12, 2015

Great story but poorly written
Great story but poorly written. Also some inaccurate facts. She states that all the crew of the Jeanette were lost. This is not true. Many of them survived

June 16, 2016

Good lord. I couldn't finish the first CD
This is a review on the reading of the audio book. Good lord. I couldn't finish the first CD. Ms Niven reads as if we are in the 2nd grade; slow, exaggerated pronunciation with sing-song overtones. Listening to her is exhausting. Buy the written word and tape it yourself.

March 7, 2007

Poorly written
Coincidentally I had just finished 'Alive' - another story about cold weather survival. Perhaps mainly by contrast I found it impossible to get into 'The Ice Master'. While the event is undeniably interesting, Niven's telling ruins it.

December 6, 2016

Great story, badly written
I only gave it three stars because even though it is a great true polar story, it is written in a slow, long, repetitive way. I almost gave it up but wanted to know how it ended so I read on, skipping page after page of similar descriptions.

June 20, 2019

I enjoyed the author's writing style. It must be a difficult job to develop a story based on individuals logs and the author's observations?
I enjoyed the author's writing style. I am interested in the exp!rotations in both the Arctic and Antarctic and have traveled and read extensively the region's. Difficult to develop a story basically from Individual Logs?

August 23, 2017

Compare and contrast this adventure with Shackleton's Antartic voyage
Interesting story of an Arctic adventure doomed by incompetence at all levels. What a contrast to Shackleton's ill fated voyage at the opposite pole a year later.

September 9, 2015

A wonderfully crafted story
The Ice Master is a wonderfully crafted story based on historical journals from those people involved in the ill-fated Arctic voyage. I enjoyed the adventure, but it was a little difficult at times for me to keep track of all the people. Several of the names are so similar that I found it confusing at times to keep them straight. I don't know if pictures throughout the book would help or not. Just a thought.
I would have liked to have seen an occasional map within the text to help me visualize their locations at different points in their journey. I read an e-book and so I'm not aware of the differences in a paper or hardback version. The research involved in writing this story must have been exhausting. Niven does a nice job of bringing her research to life. She goes into such great detail with the individual experiences that it feels like she brings their tragedy to life.

August 12, 2015

Hero's all. The bravery of these men and the ...
Hero's all. The bravery of these men and the way they faced each crisis shows us what real adventure is all about.

June 16, 2015

Four Stars
Can't believe they had to endure that....

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