In the Kingdom of Ice

August 10, 2014 History, Narrative Non-Fiction, non-fiction, Review 12 ★★★★★

In the Kingdom of IceTitle: In the Kingdom of Ice
Author: Hampton Sides
Source: from publisher for review
Links: Bookshop (affiliate link) |Goodreads

Summary: My favorite narrative nonfiction this year! Well-researched and packed with details that bring this more fantastic than fiction adventure story to life.

The north pole was the late nineteenth century’s final frontier. Popular belief suggested that an undiscovered group of people might live at the pole in a region kept habitable by warm ocean water flowing under a surrounding ring of ice. After a rescue mission in which he acquitted himself heroically, navy man George Washington De Long was the obvious choice to lead the next expedition. With funding from eccentric newspaper owner Gordon Bennett, he led a team of 32 men (including a reporter) on a voyage aiming for the pole. However, as their ship was first trapped in ice and then smashed to pieces, it quickly became clear that the men of the expedition would be lucky to make it home alive.

With this book, it was love at first sight. I’ve been looking forward to reading In The Kingdom of Ice since I first heard of it months ago and somehow it still exceeded my expectations. The author’s use of direct quotes was fantastic. They were seamlessly integrated into the story and made the experiences of the explorers more vivid. They also helped to capture the feel of an age with a strong national desire for innovation and exploration. Together with the author’s engaging narration, they made the book feel Jules Vernesque in a number of wonderful ways. The characters were larger than life as were the insane feats they attempted. Despite being 400 pages, this was easy to get through and impossible to put down.

My only small complaint with this book is that the author often described people’s feelings and personalities without citing specific sources as support. However, the author has clearly read extensively through the logs of the crew members, so I’m inclined to believe that this is well-informed speculation. Either way, these details about the people involved in the story, as well as detailed descriptions of every aspect of the adventure, made this story a pleasure to read. Truly, I was blown away by the author’s ability to craft a compelling narrative while constrained by the framework of true events. I don’t think any fictional embellishments could have improved on this true story. I’d highly recommend this to anyone, but particularly to fans of Mitchel Zuckoff or Jules Verne.


12 Responses to “In the Kingdom of Ice”

    • DoingDewey

      That’s wonderful! I love narrative nonfiction, partly because it’s always so fun to read and partly because I think it’s a subgenre of nonfiction which is particularly likely to appeal to readers who mostly read fiction. I’m glad you liked this one 🙂

    • DoingDewey

      Haha, yep, that makes sense. Everything is better with penguins 🙂 Although given that the guys on the expedition are often starving and eat whatever animals they come across, perhaps it’s actually better there weren’t penguins…

  1. Lindsey

    I love the comparison to Jules Verne! I think that is exactly what we want when we read adventure stories like this.

    Like you, I wonder sometimes at the feelings attributed to historical figures. But I guess it makes the narratives better to read, even if the author is imagining a bit!

    • DoingDewey

      I loved that it reminded me of Verne! The adventures these men had were almost beyond believable and I felt like the author did a great job capturing the national focus on adventure which fueled Verne’s writing.

      One narrative nonfiction book I’ve read, The Black Count, dealt with this really well, with the author always citing personal correspondence or other sources to specifically support her guesses about the protagonist’s feelings. I was hoping the author would do the same here, but given the amount of personal correspondence the author cites, I think it’s likely that his guesses at feelings are equally well informed. As you said, either way, it definitely improves the story!

  2. Naomi

    I have really been looking forward to this book. It sounds like one I will love. I’m glad to see a 5 star review!

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