Labyrinth of Ice tells the story of Lt. Adolph Greely and his crew of twenty four men and their quest to venture into the Arctic to both collect weather data as well as break the record for “farthest North” in the process. Despite extensive planning and preparation, what would unfold is a story of strength, courage and ultimately survival.
I was given an advanced copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Buddy Levy’s recounting of the famed 1881 Lady Franklin Bay Expedition is nothing short of remarkable. Levy drew on extensive records from the crew that are, surprisingly, freely available through the US National Archives and Records Administration given that it was considered a military mission. Lt Greely’s handwritten notes alone comprised two volumes totaling over thirteen hundred pages! Also, where the primary goal of the venture dealt with collecting environmental data, the detailed records helped Levy build atmosphere accurately in knowing the exact weather the entire time the team was stranded.
Arriving in what would eventually be classified as Northern Nunavut much later, the crew would set up Fort Conger and remain there for two years before heading three hundred and seventy nine kilometers south to Cape Sabine where they would be left stranded until 1884 battling unimaginable hardships. Levy takes great care to immerse the reader right in alongside the crew fighting against the elements and the threat of starvation. I would put this right up with Cormac MacCarthy’s The Road in terms of a survivalist page turner. Like The Man and The Boy’s frantic search for food in the aforementioned post apocalyptic novel, Levy’s explanation of the suffering the men had to endure just to see another day had me needing to know how they would find a way to continue.
While the men continued to fight for their lives, Levy also places a spotlight on the many attempts to reach and rescue the crew. Just as the constant buildup of ice kept the men from sailing home, it also prevented further caches of supplies and relief from reaching them. It’s particularly surprising to know that there were several within the US government that considered Greely and his men a lost cause and had been against any subsequent attempts to reach them following the failure of the initial rescue mission which saw the sinking of a ship and near loss of life.
I’m not sure how well known this story is, so I will refrain from spoiling how everything ends but there was a great deal of controversy arising out of what was found at Cape Sabine when US relief ships would eventually arrive. Levy approaches it with care and does not get bogged down in the salacious nature of it all like many journalists did at the time. He presents the evidence against the testimonies of those of Greely’s crew that were there and doesn’t try to theorize on what he believed happened.
With Labyrinth of Ice, Buddy Levy has written an informative and engrossing story about the strength of the human spirit in the face of extraordinary adversity. This is hands-down one of the best books I’ve read in 2019.
Labyrinth of Ice: The Triumphant and Tragic Greely Polar Expedition is due to be released on December 03rd, 2019
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