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Karluk: The great untold story of Arctic exploration

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Format: Hardcover

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Book Overview

An astonishing narrative of disaster and perseverance, The Last Voyage of the Karluk will thrill readers of adventure classics like Into Thin Air and The Climb. In 1913, explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson... This description may be from another edition of this product.

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

A classic of first-hand adventure narrative.

A totally gripping true-life adventure, written in 1976 by an 88-year old Glasgow schoolmaster who, prior to serving as an officer in WW1, was one of the survivors of a horrifically mismanaged Arctic expedition. The "Karluk" was one of three vessels involved in an exploration of the Canadian Arctic in 1913, master-minded by one Vilhajalmur Stefansson, a monomaniac fixated on the idea of the Arctic as a friendly environment in which abundant food could be soured. In the event however none of the expedition members received any relevant training in survival skills before setting out. The ships' crews did not expect to winter in the Arctic while the scientific staff, of whom McKinlay was one, were almost all young men straight from University, with no previous Arctic experience. Steffanson's callousness in deserting the Karluk once it was ice-bound, and starting an independent five-year exploration journey without making any attempt to arrange rescue of its crew, almost beggars comprehension. McKinlay's story of misery, squalor, sickness, death, cowardice and heroism over the following year is at times depressing reading, but is always gripping. Of the Karluk's complement of twenty five, eleven died following the break-up of the ship in the ice north of Siberia, in the attempts to reach land and during the subsequent struggle to stay alive under conditions of extreme privation. That any survived is due to the heroism of the Karluk's captain, Robert Bartlett, who with one Eskimo companion managed to reach the Siberian mainland to seek help while the other survivors attempted to eke out an existence on the bleak Wrangel Island. The author's account is understated as regard his own role but it was obviously critical in maintaining morale and cohesion in an ill-assorted group with no real basis for camaraderie and discipline. It is the lack of these two factors that McKinlay found the great difference with his later, albeit terrible, experiences in Flanders, making the Wrangel Island episode incomparably worse. The writing is simple, spare and elegant and sweeps the reader along. It is the narrative of a decent, courageous man and it deserves to live on as a classic or adventure and exploration.

The will to live

I purchased this book to send to my son who teaches history. I decided I would read it, first. The author was a teacher and was honored that he was selected to take this exploration voyage with so many distinguished scientists. This book will show you what the body and spirit can endure when it has the ardent desire to live; among the survivors is the Eskimo family with two children, ages eleven and three, and a cat. This happened in 1913-1914. It will make you wonder if today's people still have the endurance and the will to survive as seen in this era.

Way better than I had hoped for!

Unliked the other reviewers thus far, I have not read other accounts of polar expeditions, never found the subject intriguing enough when there were so many other histories clamoring for my attention. I'm still not sure what persuaded me to buy this little book, but I am SO glad I did. I found it sufficiently detailed to give me the progressive pictures of ineptitude, boredom, labor, frostbite, incompatibility, isolation, hunger, despair, et al, without becoming bogged down in tedium. By virtue of having waited so many years to pen his account, McKinlay is probably more even-handed in the telling than he would have been otherwise, and makes the book a moving experience rather simply a bitter one. Kudos to the man, he was indeed a canny Scot, and has related a story worthy of being captured on film.

A useful contrast to the Endurance saga

It's hard to picture any expedition more ineptly run than Scott's, but the Karluk expedition was indeed even worse. And while Scott's mistakes were exposed for the world to see, the leader of the Karluk expedition, Vilhjalmur Stefansson, was so successful in covering up his that he was lionized after his return by the National Geographic Society and no less a personage than Robert Peary. This book was written some sixty years after the fact by a survivor of the expedition, and while the execution could be better, this is an interesting tale that provides a useful counterpoint to the story of the Endurance. While Sir Ernest Shackleton, through his courage, self-sacrifice, and leadership saved every one of his men when the Endurance was crushed in the ice and sunk, when the Karluk was similarly beset the vile Stefansson left his men to die.

Incredible story of courage and survival in 1915 Arctic

This is the story of a scientist who joined the ill-fated Karluk expedition organized in 1913 by V.Stefansson. Poorly organized and ill-equipped,he tells the story of his survival extremely well. This book is very readable and you have to keep reminding yourself that this story is real and not from Hollywood. Arctic expeditions are dangerous enough- but pre-W.W.I they were even more so. That anyone survived this experience is truly amazing. Mr. McKinlay goes into great detail about their day to day struggle for survival. He writes extremely well, considering he was a scientist. I wish I could have met this man. Great Book!!
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