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Icebound: Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World Kindle Edition
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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 resonant meditation on human ingenuity, resilience, and hope” (The New Yorker), 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 firsthand glimpse into the true nature of courage.
"A resonant meditation on human ingenuity, resilience, and hope."
—The New Yorker
“A fascinating modern telling of Barents’s expeditions….Ms. Pitzer presents a compelling narrative situated in the context of Dutch imperial ambition. She writes vividly about the ‘unnerving isolation’ of venturing north and east of Scandinavia into uncharted waters.”
—Wall Street Journal
“The expedition’s highlight reel included everything a polar fan could want: hand-to-hand combat with polar bears and walruses; scurvy and vitamin A poisoning; asphyxiation by carbon dioxide; frostbite, keelhauling and hangings; plus the sighting of a rare atmospheric optical phenomenon called a parhelion…Pitzer writes with care about the Arctic landscape Barents encountered…A reminder that there was once a time when things were unknown.”
—New York Times Book Review
“The name of William Barents isn’t that familiar to us these days beyond perhaps a line of type on your atlas… but this enthralling, elemental and literally spine-chilling epic of courage and endurance should change all that.”
—Daily Mail (UK)
“The stuff of castaway movies…Pitzer does a fine job of telling this gripping adventure, painting a convincing portrait of an obsessive who put his life on the line for glory and knowledge—and succumbed.”
“Dramatic and dire…[the men]fight off polar bears that rear up from nowhere, attacking until they are slaughtered or driven away. The ship tacks endlessly and desperately to escape floating ‘mountains of steel’…Ms. Pitzer’s descriptions of the region sing.”
“Narratives of frozen beards in polar hinterlands never lose their appeal. Most of the good stories have been told, but in Icebound Andrea Pitzer fills a gap, at least for the popular reader in English, with the story of the 16th-century Dutch mariner William Barents….Elegant.”
“Richly descriptive…The real grip of the book lies in the horrendous dangers and hardships endured by Barents and his shipmates, and the determination with which they met them... For these explorers, it was as if they had visited another planet, a hostile place of alien creatures and otherworldly horrors.”
—Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Andrea Pitzer does a fine job of telling this gripping adventure, painting a convincing portrait of an obsessive who put his life on the line for glory and knowledge—and succumbed.”
—The Observer (UK)
“A masterful re-creation of a desperate fight for survival [that] takes us back nearly half a millennium and plunks us down in a vividly realized world…More than just another book about a disastrous sea voyage, this is a richly evocative story about a particular period in the history of exploration. Icebound deserves a place beside such classics as Alfred Lansing's Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage and Roland Huntford’s The Last Place on Earth: Scott and Amundson's Race to the South Pole.”
—Booklist (starred review)
“Pitzer’s narrative vividly conveys tension and terror. A meticulously researched history of maritime tragedy.”
"Long before Bering or Amundsen, long before Franklin or Shackleton, there was William Barents, in many ways the greatest polar explorer of them all. In this engrossing narrative of the Far North, enriched by her own adventurous sojourns in the Arctic, Andrea Pitzer brings Barents’ three harrowing expeditions to vivid life—while giving us fascinating insights into one of history's most intrepid navigators."
—Hampton Sides, New York Times bestselling author of In the Kingdom of Ice
“Who knew that William Barents’s 16th-century journeys so strongly influenced the great 19th-century arctic expeditions? Andrea Pitzer’s visceral, thrilling account is full of such tantalizing surprises, a delight on every level.”
—Andrea Barrett, National Book Award-winning author of Ship Fever and The Voyage of the Narwhal
“Buried in snow, besieged by ice, and hunted by ravenous polar bears, explorer William Barents and his Dutch shipmates, seeking a northern trade route to the Far East, found themselves trapped in an epic battle for survival in the unknown, ice-locked Arctic. Andrea Pitzer’s worthy and superb account keeps us enthralled to the last chilling word.”
—Dean King, nationally bestselling author of Skeletons on the Zahara and The Feud
“The bone-chilling tale of a legendary journey in which survival depended on leadership, teamwork, and superhuman endurance—as well as the ability to outpace and out-battle icebergs and polar bears….A masterwork of narrative nonfiction.”
—Mitchell Zuckoff, New York Times bestselling author of Frozen in Time and Fall and Rise
“Gives readers a new understanding of the phrase uncharted territory…. Methodically researched and elegantly told.”
—Beth Macy, New York Times bestselling author of Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company That Addicted America
"An enchantment. Pitzer expertly draws the reader into landscapes so unfamiliar and unsettling that they may as well be stolen from science fiction….[Features] ordeals that—to today’s readers—can seem nearly unimaginable.”
—Steve Silberman, author, NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity
“Page after page, Pitzer puts you inside one of the greatest adventures you’ll ever encounter. Beyond thrilling. Beyond enthralling. I found this a tale so involving that I simply couldn’t put it down.”
—Martin W. Sandler, author of the National Book Award finalist 1919 and The Impossible Rescue
"Stunning…shines with the glitter of sun reflecting off polar ice, auroral light shimmering in the night sky, and—mostly—the sheer, stubborn power of the undaunted human spirit."
—Deborah Blum, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Poison Squad: One Chemist's Single-Minded Crusade for Food Safety at the Turn of the Twentieth Century
"Fascinating, bizarre, and very human…A riveting account of lives drawn into a world that seems at once dream and nightmare."
—Blair Braverman, author of Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube: Chasing Fear and Finding Home in the Great White North
“An epic tale of exploration, daring, and tragedy told by a fine historian—and a wonderful writer.”
—Peter Frankopan, internationally bestselling author of The Silk Roads: A New History of the World
“In Icebound Andrea Pitzer has accomplished something unique—she presents the daily lives of the early Dutch Arctic explorers with such precision and clarity that the reader becomes as immersed in the rawness of their experiences as one could ever imagine. Through unflinching detail, she describes the struggle for survival faced by three separate expeditions seeking a northeast passage from Europe to China (one of those voyages culminating in being marooned for months in the frozen north). Without sentimentality, she describes the perseverance and selfless sacrifice of the men involved, which allows a glimpse into the true nature of human courage. This is a book you will not want to put down, except to catch your breath.”
—William E. Glassley, author of A Wilder Time: Notes From a Geologist at the Edge of the Greenland Ice
“Andrea Pitzer accomplishes for William Barents what the explorer could not do for himself: rescue his amazing life from the grip of the Arctic and centuries of hagiography. The Barents who appears in Pitzer’s spyglass seems impressively close to the actual man: intensely bold, highly skilled, and catastrophically wrong.”
—P.J. Capelotti, author of The Greatest Show in the Arctic
About the Author
- ASIN : B08BZVWY4Q
- Publisher : Scribner (January 12, 2021)
- Publication date : January 12, 2021
- Language : English
- File size : 17481 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Sticky notes : On Kindle Scribe
- Print length : 299 pages
- Best Sellers Rank: #363,447 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Reviewed in the United States on March 26, 2021
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Even more impressive is Pitzer’s personal travel to Nova Zembla, Barent’s last destination, to see his winter cabin, to experience herself the landscape and weather they faced. I appreciated this section of the book very much and admire her tenacity.
I understand some of the other reviewers’ critiques: yes, there is a lack of source material. But, it’s 1594. It’s amazing, given their harrowing struggle to survive a year in the Arctic, that any journals were kept. Yes, it gets tedious at times: Sept 2, Sept 5, Sept 11... it sounds like a recitation of the journals. Lots and lots of polar bears. Not much variation in action. But this was their actual life; it’s not fiction. Sometimes Pitzer veers off to discuss other polar explorers. While this can side-step the flow of the story, I found it very interesting to be reminded of other explorations and history. And for those animal lovers who abhorred the men killing animals... what do you think animals themselves do to survive in the Arctic? Pitzer portrays real life, real survival, by a Dutch group of explorers who put their lives at risk, and suffered mightily, not just for the glory of the Netherlands, but for expanding our knowledge of our own planet.
I have read almost every Arctic (and Antarctic) survival story written or translated into English, and this is the best I've read yet. It weaves the nail-biting drama of surviving in a hostile world of ice and sea and stone together with the larger historical context driving that exploration: the expansion of empires and the cruelty and exploitation that came with them. At the same time, the reader can still enjoy the sense of awe and discovery of exploring a new and unknown domain, filled with strange people, cryptic monuments, and fearful wildlife.
If you'd like to learn more about the research that went into this book, the author wrote a gorgeous story about the Arctic sailing trip she took to Nova Zembla, published in Outside Magazine as "My Mid-Life Crisis as a Russian Sailor." For various reasons, I can't visit the Arctic myself, but this story made me feel like I'd actually been there, more than anything else I've read.
Bottom line: if you enjoy a well-written adventure story with the depth and detail that comes from serious research, hit the order button now.
One small gripe--"Nova Zembla" does not derive from the Dutch words for "new land", it sounds like a Dutch corruption of the Russian words "Novaya Zemlya" = "new land".
Top reviews from other countries
First, the historical record is frustratingly vague. Pitzer clearly has limited source material to work with - we do not even know the name of Barents’ ship on his fateful final voyage, for example - and it shows throughout. This is a flimsy account, progressing in chronological fashion and all too clearly reliant on prosaic journal records from the small crew.
Second, Pitzer sadly fails to elevate the tale beyond the source material. The book is in need of a good editor (perhaps it is just me, but I was particularly horrified to see the ubiquitous business phrase ‘going forward’ appear) and there are frequent jarring shifts of gear between recounting the expedition’s fate and expounding on the historical context, both executed in merely functional style.
Perhaps the most frustrating element was that the source material, while obviously limited, is so poorly used. There is no sense of Barents’ character, nor that of any of his crew mates, even though their journals naturally form the basis of the story. Perhaps that is due to the fragmentary or matter-of-fact nature of their recollections (the author does not offer an assessment), but as an example of how Pitzer erects barriers to our understanding of the expedition’s plight, on the rare occasions she does directly quote their words she inexplicably translates their period Dutch into a rough approximation of how an English speaker of the 16th century might have written. And so we get this: “in regard of the long voiage that we haue in hand, and our bread wil not last vs longer than to end of the mounth of August...”. The effect is bizarre, and a strangely artificial and pointless way of rendering these crucial accounts more distant than need be the case.
This is a fascinating tale adequately told, but it is hard not to leave Icebound without a sense of frustration. Ultimately, the extraordinary accomplishments and suffering of Barents and his crew remains only glimpsed as a distant historical record, where in other hands it might have been brought vividly and chillingly to life.
Icebound starts off with Dutch seamen trying to find a northeast passage to China. Two were defeated by ice and returned home, but the third attempt ended in the loss of the ship. What follows is a harrowing story of hardship and survival against ice, freezing temperatures, polar bears, hunger, scurvy, rain with the survivors trying to get back to Holland.
This is an incredible story of survival as admirable as any such as Sir Ernest Shackleton, Sir John Franklin and the the SS Janette.
There had been notable voyages of Arctic exploration before Barents’ time, but his was the first to sail round the top of Scandinavia with the aim of penetrating the sea-ice of Russia’s north coast and opening a trade route to the East. Without spoiling the story for you, he and his companions in their frail wooden ships had very little idea of the obstacles or distances they faced, carrying no special clothing, with no scientific understanding of scurvy and being unable to calculate longitude.
Andrea Pitzer’s telling of the tale takes us chronologically through the source material, which mostly means the understandably prosaic journals of those on the expeditions. Sometimes this feels to the reader, in the author’s own phrase, like “an endless loop of shooting bears, dragging boats, and consigning themselves to the choking ice as they got weaker and weaker”. But with decent maps, footnotes relegated to the back and excellent proof-reading, ‘Icebound’ will tell you in fewer than 300 pages all you should know about the efforts of a small band of brave men to enlarge the sum of human knowledge to the profit of their commercial sponsors. Without labouring the point, the story is also testament to how much more ice, and how many more polar bears, the Arctic boasted before Man’s interventions.