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Barrow's Boys Hardcover – 22 Oct 1998


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Granta Books; First Edition edition (22 Oct 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 186207173x
  • ISBN-13: 978-1862071735
  • ASIN: 186207173X
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 16.3 x 4.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 272,415 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

There's something about the overwhelming emptiness and terrifying beauty of the polar regions that never fails to attract. They are the most powerful symbols we have left of a world where human-made laws and values count for nothing; no one conquers the frozen wastelands-- they merely learn to live by the rules nature dictates. It is easy to see how for a long time the lives of the polar explorers were shrouded in quasi-mystical and heroic terms. This all changed in the 1970s with the publication of Roland Huntford's magnificent biography, Scott and Amundsen, in which he systematically and methodically revealed the levels of incompetence and arrogance with which Scott's expedition was riddled.

In Barrow's Boys Fergus Fleming takes us on an incisive and witty journey through the landmark years of British exploration from 1816-1850, marvelling at both the bravery and the stupidity involved. Fleming is a historian first and foremost, so he begins by placing exploration in its context. It wasn't some high-minded idealism or wacky sense of adventure, as is often suggested, that placed Britain at the forefront of discovery, but economics and self-interest. At the end of the Napoleonic wars, the British Navy was too large for its peacetime needs. Officers were laid off and advancement was slow, so the Navy needed to find itself a role. Charting the unmapped areas of the world seemed as good an idea as any.

Step forward John Barrow. Barrow was only the Second Secretary at the Admiralty--not normally a position of great influence--yet he was a skilled politician, and he managed to carve out a niche for himself by organising expedition after expedition. He started inauspiciously by sending Captain James Tuckey off on an ill-fated jaunt up the Congo in search of Timbucktoo, which was then imagined as some African El Dorado, and he ended in failure with the loss of Franklin's expedition to find the North West Passage. In between he courted triumph and tragedy; Ross discovered Antarctica, Parry opened up the Arctic with his attempt on the Pole, and Captain Bremer failed to establish northern Australia as the new Singapore.

Fleming has a great feel for the telling detail. He doesn't get lost in endless minutiae that distract from the narrative, but he never fails to remind us of the surrealism of British 19th-century exploration--cocked hats and reindeer-drawn sledges in the Arctic, frock coats in the Sahara. When put like this, it makes it all too easy to see how Scott could have been allowed to have botch his journey to the South Pole quite so catastrophically. --John Crace

Review

‘A remarkable story, engagingly and knowledgeably told’ -- Good Book Guide --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Ken Newell on 24 Jan 2002
Format: Paperback
Fergus Fleming's book is a prodigiously researched and scholarly account of the wide range of expeditions undertaken by an equally diverse number of explorers sent out by John Barrow during the period of his secretaryship at the Admiralty from 1816 to 1845.
Along the way you will be astounded at the extent of human endurance and suffering and by the insight into the leader's characters, as well as the quantity and quality of detail for each and every trip. You will learn more about human nature in this one volume expounding Barrow's questing, than from a whole barrow-load of Bibles and Korans.
Buy it, read it and be enthralled and awed by the experiences of these intrepid men and their tireless searching.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 9 Feb 1999
Format: Hardcover
Having just finished this excellent book I thought I would add my praise to those already on file. The book covers not only the exploits of the explorers but lets us into some of the incredible machinations and double dealing that went on in the backrooms. One points of criticism though, the maps are not adequate, they were jumbled and confusing and there were not enough of them, the publishers fault I suspect. One thing I particularly liked was the follow-up section where we learn something of what happened to the characters outside the constraints of the story. It completes the picture. I highly recommend this book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Aussie Reader on 13 Mar 2003
Format: Hardcover
This is a fascinating and enjoyable account of a number of brave men, sent to the furthermost points of the world to fill in the blank spots on the British Navy's globe. John Barrow, Second Secretary to the Admiralty sent a number of expeditions to find the source of the Niger River, to locate and traverse the North-West Passage, to locate Magnetic North, to find out what was actually at the Antarctic.
There are some great adventure stories here, of brave men, blundering fools and gentle heroes. Travel the Sahara on a camel or with a slave convoy, drag boats and sleds across ice flows in the Arctic whilst on half rations or travel across the Canadian wilderness whilst near death from starvation. Experience the affects of scurvy and hunger whilst trapped in a wooden ship with massive icebergs slowly crushing the frame.
Read about the majestic sights seen by these intrepid travelers, pink ice, the aurora borealis and the aurora australis, Eskimo's and polar bears. Read about the tragic end to a number of these expeditions and the fate of many of the ship's crews, most notably John Franklin's 1845 expedition in the 'Erebus' and 'Terror' to find the North-West Passage.
This is a great book, the narrative flows along like a well-written novel. At times I found it hard to put the book down, reading late into the morning trying to finish a chapter. I must admit that I have no previous expertise in this field other than having read "Ice Blink" but I found the story well presented and believe that the author has done his research. This is an easy and enjoyable book to read and I think anyone who loves a good adventure story will certainly enjoy this account.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 17 Jan 2000
Format: Paperback
This book takes you back to the days when 19th Century English society thought the world belonged to them and would stop at nothing to put their names and flag on every remote corner of it. Sir John Barrow was an opinionated monster in the Admiralty who had the power and the money to send men off on extraordinary voyages, often witha pitiful budget, the wrong boats, wrong equipment, wrong supplies and sometimes the wrong crew. The explorers themselves nevertheless managed to achieve some astonishing results in spite of all this mean-minded inefficiency. The North West passage was eventually found, even though it was useless. The mouth of the Niger was mapped and Antartica was discovered to be a real continent. Of course men died in the process, scurvy was only just beginning to be understood to say nothing of the rigours of surviving in temperatures of between 50 and 90 degrees below freezing in only traditional British naval uniform. The first explorers to meet Eskimos scorned their furs and dog sledges and English men were still pulling sledges themselves 50 years later. The first steam driven ship to go to the Arctic, disapproved of by the traditionalist Barrow, was so poorly engineered that the engine went out constantly and was eventually abandoned
Barrow was unforgiving to those who were not successful in his eyes and did not hesitage to write disparagingly of their achievements. He also had his favourites who were sometimes rewarded beyond their deserts. However, there was some true heroic action by men whose names are not so well remembered now as well as men like Parry and Ross who gave their names to remote corners of the world.
This book is a mixture of heart-stopping danger and incredible farce.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 28 April 1999
Format: Hardcover
This book gives an excellent and thoroughly enjoyable account of the immense expense and human sacrifice that was made in the name of exploration, mostly for purposes of individual gratification or commercial gain - and often with devastating consequences. Fergus Fleming manages to make history come alive, and the knowledge that all events reported in the book actually occurred makes it all the more memorable and thrilling. Above all, this a book about human endurance and true adventure, about great vision and pure greed, and the brave men who made it all happen. Highly recommended for all.
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