True North: Peary, Cook, and the Race to the Pole

True North: Peary, Cook, and the Race to the Pole

by Bruce Henderson
     
 

View All Available Formats & Editions

This book is about one of the most enduring and vitriolic feuds in the history of exploration, one that would cause a bitter divide in the international scientific community and, eventually, lead to the ruin of one of the claimants and the discrediting of the other.

The irony is that the men had started out as friends and shipmates, with Frederick Cook, a physician

Overview

This book is about one of the most enduring and vitriolic feuds in the history of exploration, one that would cause a bitter divide in the international scientific community and, eventually, lead to the ruin of one of the claimants and the discrediting of the other.

The irony is that the men had started out as friends and shipmates, with Frederick Cook, a physician, accompanying Robert Peary, a civil engineer with a U.S. Navy commission, on an expedition to northern Greenland in 1891. Peary's leg was shattered in a shipboard accident on the trip north, and without Cook's care he might never have walked again. But by the summer of 1909, all the goodwill had evaporated. In September 1909 Peary reported that he had reached the Pole five months earlier. But Cook, who reappeared seemingly back from the dead after a lengthy journey in the Arctic wastes with just two native companions, presented persuasive testimony that he had been the first to attain the Pole, a year earlier, in April 1908.

The feud became the preoccupation of both men for the rest of their lives. Cook was something of a loner, but Peary was a man with friends in very high places, and he wielded this influence brutally. On one occasion he refused to take aboard his ship Cook's crates of scientific instruments and polar records, thereby helping to ensure their loss. Peary's friends also paid money to induce perjury that would tarnish Cook's claim to the first ascent of Mt. McKinley, the highest peak in North America. And late in the century, years after both Cook and Peary were dead, a long-suppressed diary was released, causing National Geographic to conclude that one of the claimants missed the Pole entirely and subsequently perpetrated a knowing fraud.

Bruce Henderson has crafted a gripping account of the claims and counterclaims, and presents fascinating scientific and even psychological evidence to put the harrowing details of polar exploration in a new context.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
On April 21, 1908, American explorer Frederick Cook reached the North Pole. A year later, fellow Arctic pioneer Robert Peary denounced him, claiming to have reached the Pole first. In this first-rate tale of adventure, bravery and perfidy, Henderson (And the Sea Will Tell) attempts to identify the winner. In 1891, Cook, recovering from the deaths of both his wife and child and seeking adventure, was hired by Peary as chief medical officer on an expedition to Greenland. The men clashed, setting the stage for later conflict (and providing excellent fodder for this exciting book). Hooked on extreme cold weather quests, Cook journeyed to the Antarctic and was also the first to summit Mount McKinley. In Henderson's telling, Peary too craved adventure, but his insatiable desire for fame was his driving force. "Remember, mother, I must have fame," Henderson quotes Peary saying in a letter to his mother. When Peary learned Cook had reached the Pole before him, Peary painted Cook as a liar and a fraud. According to Henderson, Cook reacted to the barrage by going into seclusion, and when he emerged, it was too late to save his reputation. Peary's claim to the Pole was later dismissed, but Cook's achievement was never recognized. This adventure yarn delivers as both a cautionary tale and a fitting memorial to polar exploration. Illus. Agent, Michael Carlisle. (Feb.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In 1909, within weeks of each other, Dr. Frederick Cook and Rear Admiral Richard Peary each claimed to have been the first man to reach the North Pole, and a vitriolic controversy erupted. This conflict captivated the American imagination, with each man boasting staunch supporters, and has continued to fascinate to this day. In alternating chapters, best-selling author Henderson (And the Sea Will Tell) chronicles Cook's and Peary's journeys to the top of the world. Their rivalry was sensational partly because the two men had previously been friends and had journeyed north together; in 1891, Cook served as surgeon and ethnologist for Peary's Greenland expedition. Henderson argues that neither man's claim was entirely valid: Cook probably came as close to the geographic pole as anyone in his time, while Peary was apparently 80 miles off. Recommended for public libraries. (Notes and illustrations not seen.)-Margaret Atwater-Singer, Univ. of Evansville Libs., IN Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Henderson (Fatal North, 2001, etc.) offers another nail-biting true adventure, this one involving the turn-of-the-20th-century rivalry between contemporaries who both claimed to be the first man to the Pole. Initially, their shared passion for the Far North brought together Navy man Robert Peary, a bulldog of an explorer, and the gentle physician Frederick Cook. But after Peary invoked his right as expedition leader and refused to allow crew doctor Cook to present a paper on the medical and reproductive practices of the Eskimo, their paths diverged. Peary continued his assaults on the Pole, failing repeatedly, while Cook diversified his explorations to include climbing Mt. McKinley (he was the first man to ever reach its summit) and exploring Antarctica (he was the first American to explore both the northern and southern polar regions). Henderson makes their days vivid, with much discussion of such ancillary characters as Peary's wife, who insisted on traveling with him whenever possible, and events like Cook's near miss in getting funding from Andrew Carnegie. This engrossing story of two divergent yet entwined fates climaxes with twin journeys to the North Pole. Both men claimed to have reached the "Big Nail" (as the Eskimos dubbed it) within days of each other. Henderson comes down squarely on Cook's side, painting the doctor as an honest man, interested only in exploration, who was ill-equipped to deal with Peary's desperation, willingness to discredit his onetime colleague, and generally dirty tactics. A judge friendly with the Peary family even managed to throw Cook into jail for 14 years. For the reader, the pain of witnessing Cook's vilification is almost counterbalanced by hisexoneration 75 years later-but not quite. The debate remains open, but Henderson provides plenty of fuel for Cook loyalists. Agent: Paul Bresnick/Inkwell Management

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393057911
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
04/18/2005
Pages:
288
Product dimensions:
6.42(w) x 9.04(h) x 1.20(d)

Meet the Author

Bruce Henderson is the author and coauthor of many nonfiction books, including the #1 New York Times bestseller And the Sea Will Tell. He lives in Santa Rosa, California.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network

     

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >