In the bestselling tradition of Hampton Sides’s In the Kingdom of Ice, a riveting and cinematic tale of Dutch polar explorer William Barents and his three harrowing Arctic expeditions—the last of which resulted in a relentlessly challenging year-long fight for survival.
The human story has always been one of perseverance—often against remarkable odds. The most astonishing survival tale of all might be that of 16th-century Dutch explorer William Barents and his crew of sixteen, who ventured farther north than any Europeans before and, on their third polar exploration, lost their ship off the frozen coast of Nova Zembla to unforgiving ice. The men would spend the next year fighting off ravenous polar bears, gnawing hunger, and endless winter.
In Icebound, Andrea Pitzer masterfully combines a gripping tale of survival with a sweeping history of the great Age of Exploration—a time of hope, adventure, and seemingly unlimited geographic frontiers. At the story’s center is William Barents, one of the 16th century’s greatest navigators whose larger-than-life ambitions and obsessive quest to chart a path through the deepest, most remote regions of the Arctic ended in both tragedy and glory. Journalist Pitzer did extensive research, learning how to use four-hundred-year-old navigation equipment, setting out on three Arctic expeditions to retrace Barents’s steps, and visiting replicas of Barents’s ship and cabin.
“A visceral, thrilling account full of tantalizing surprises” (Andrea Barrett, author of The Voyage of the Narwhal ), Pitzer’s reenactment of Barents’s ill-fated journey shows us how the human body can function at twenty degrees below, the history of mutiny, the art of celestial navigation, and the intricacies of building shelters. But above all, it gives us a first-hand glimpse into the true nature of human courage.
Journalist Pitzer (One Long Night) recounts the three Arctic voyages of 16th-century Dutch navigator and cartographer William Barents in this impressively researched history. Seeking a northeastern passage to China, Barents and other sailors and merchants subscribed to "the idea of a warm North Pole," Pitzer writes, "an easily navigable sea... that might carry them over the top of the world and deliver them to profitable lands." After frozen seas turned back his first two expeditions, Barents rounded the northern tip of Nova Zembla, an island north of mainland Russia, in August 1596. His ship became encased in three feet of ice, however, forcing Barents and the rest of the crew to wait out the winter in a cabin they built onshore. They survived polar bear attacks and temperatures of 30 degrees below zero, and in June 1597, with the ship still trapped in ice, set out for home in two small boats. Barents, who was suffering from scurvy and had poisoned himself by eating polar bear liver, died seven days into the return journey. Pitzer captures the terror of bone-chilling temperatures and crushing ice floes, and includes edifying digressions on the Dutch war of independence (1568 1648), Viking navigation techniques, and scurvy's deadly effects on the human body. This engrossing account thrills and educates.