Between the Lines: 'Kingdom of Ice' explores an arctic expedition gone wrong

08/19/2014 12:00 AM

10/08/2014 12:22 PM

In the 1870s, in the midst of the Gilded Age, America’s sense of Manifest Destiny still prevailed. So it was predictable that the nation would turn its collective imagination to one of the last uncharted regions on the planet, the North Pole.

It was a mysterious, unexplored frontier, and rumors abounded about what awaited there. One respected theory of the day held that warm currents beneath the ice formed a “thermometric gateway” to a “polar basin” of warm water that supported a flourishing island, a singularity literally at the top of the world. If there was a prize of astounding proportions to be discovered among the ice floes, that was it.

A government-endorsed maritime expedition was mounted, with some staffing from the U.S. Navy, but with funding from multimillionaire publisher James Gordon Bennett, Jr. As the owner of the New York Herald, Bennett believed the discovery of the “Arctic Grail” would be a milestone for science and bring global acclaim to the young United States. Of course, it would also be the the scoop of the century for his newspaper.

After five years of preparation, the U.S. Arctic Expedition, as it was officially known, was launched. The refitted steamer USS Jeannette sailed from San Francisco on July 8, 1897, cheered on by thousands of people crowding the docks and hills. The ship carried a crew of civilians and naval officers under the command of Capt. George Washington De Long. Cannons roared in salute as the Jeannette passed through the Golden Gate. No one had a thought that the voyage would end in the worst ways possible.

New York Times best-selling author-historian-explorer Hampton Sides tells the fascinating tale in “In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette,” the Bee Book Club’s choice for September (Doubleday, $29, 451 pages).

Sides specializes in narrative historical nonfiction, and is the author of “Hellbound on His Trail,” an account of the 65-day hunt for Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassin, James Earl Ray; “Blood and Thunder,” a biography of scout-soldier Kit Carson and his role in settling the West; “Ghost Soldiers,” the story of how in 1945 U.S. troops rescued 513 POWs from a Japanese labor camp (made into the 2005 movie “The Great Raid”); and “Americana,” a collection of magazine pieces and National Public Radio reports.

Sides is editor-at-large of Outside magazine and a regular contributor to National Geographic and other magazines. Visit him at www.hamptonsides.com.

Sides will give his Bee Book Club presentation at 6 p.m. Sept. 18 at the Tsakopoulos Library Galleria, 828 I St., Sacramento (doors open at 5:15 p.m.). It’s a free event in partnership with the Sacramento Public Library, but tickets are required. They are available starting today at www.beebuzzpoints.com. Look for more details in the Sept. 16 Living Here section. Information: (916) 321-1128.

The Bee Book Club will conclude its 2014 program with Jodi Picoult on Oct. 23 and her 22nd novel, “Leaving Time.” In it, a woman who has searched a decade for her missing mother recruits two allies to help – a psychic and the P.I. who originally investigated the missing-person case.

“In the Kingdom of Ice” will be offered at a 30 percent discount now through Sept. 18 at these bookstores: Barnes & Noble, Avid Reader at the Tower in Sacramento, Avid Reader in Davis, Face in a Book in El Dorado Hills, Time Tested Books, Underground Books, Hornet Bookstore at California State University, Sacramento, the UC Davis Bookstore and the Bookseller in Grass Valley.

Too early for ghosts?

True, Halloween is months away, but really – can there enough spooky stuff? Add this one: “Guide to the World’s Supernatural Places” by Sarah Bartlett takes us to “more than 250 spine-chilling destinations around the globe” (National Geographic, $26, 256 pages; on sale Sept. 2).

The brief bites (with excellent photos and art) visit haunted houses, vampire lairs, witches’ covens and UFO “hot spots” while addressing legends and myths.

A sampling: At Versailles Gardens in France, the ghost of Madame du Barry has been seen “gazing across the gardens from the Hall of Mirrors.” On an island in a lagoon in Italy, “archaeologists have discovered a vampire’s skeleton.” In Mayong, India, “an attempt at invasion in 1332 resulted in the whole army perishing without a trace in the land of witchcraft.”

Jack Reacher is back

Fans of British author and former TV director Lee Child have been waiting for his next Jack Reacher novel, so here’s good news: “Personal” is due Sept. 2, the 19th title in the best-selling series (more than 60 million copies sold worldwide).

For the uninitiated, Reacher is a savvy nomad-by-choice who operates under the radar and by his own code of honor. He’s a graduate of West Point, served in the Army for 13 years (part of that time as an MP) and is a loner and survivor who makes his living as a “problem-solver,” helping those who can’t help themselves.

In “Personal,” Reacher travels to France and England to track a sniper who’s targeted the world’s political leaders (Delacorte, $28, 368 pages).

Fans are obsessive about the Reacher character, and were practically hysterical when it was announced that Tom Cruise would play Reacher in the 2012 movie “Jack Reacher.” Reacher is 6 feet 5 inches tall and weighs 250 pounds. Cruise is considerably smaller. “I’m more relaxed about it than the readers have been,” Child told me at the time. He has appeared for the Bee Book Club.

Get a clue

How do mystery writers do what they do? One way to find a clue will be at “Mystery, Mayhem and Suspense: Local Writers Share Their Secrets,” where a panel of four mystery writers will discuss their craft and answer questions.

They are Sherry Joyce (“The Dordogne Deception”), Cindy Sample (the “Dying for...” series), Linda Townsdin (“Focused on Murder”) and Elaine Fabe (“Black Cat’s Legacy”). All are members of the Sacramento chapter of Sisters in Crime, a national organization of women mystery writers.

The four will share from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sept. 6 at the El Dorado County Library, 345 Fair Lane, Placerville, (530) 621-5333; www.eldoradolibrary.org.

Birds land at Avid Reader

Melissa Hart will discuss her book “Wild Within: How Rescuing Owls Inspired a Family.” Staff from the California Raptor Center will bring live birds to the event, 6 p.m. Saturday at Avid Reader Davis, 617 Second St., (530) 758-4040.

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