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The Man Who Ate His Boots: Sir John Franklin and the Tragic History of the Northwest Passage Hardcover – 12 May 2011


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Jonathan Cape; 1st Edition edition (12 May 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0224082310
  • ISBN-13: 978-0224082310
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 3.9 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 495,535 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

`...this work paints a compelling portrait of a superpower sending its best men to die largely just to prove no challenge was beyond the English. ...scholarly, passionate text...' --The Sunday Times

`Brandt warms the heart and chills the blood with a rich historical narrative, lively with characters, of the heroic hardships and noble tragedies of Arctic exploration' --Saga Magazine

'Brandt, the author of two previous historical books and a seasoned writer of magazine articles, draws on a rich vein of fact and fiction.' --Irish Examiner

`exhaustive, elegant history.' --The Guardian

`Anthony Brandt, in this excellent book, sets out to give us the whole history of the search for the North-West Passage...The Man Who Ate His Boots gives a surprisingly deep insight into the soul of imperial Victorian Britain. Like shoe leather, there's plenty here to chew over.' --The Tablet

Book Description

The enthralling, often harrowing story of the adventurers who searched in vain for the Northwest Passage, the holy grail of nineteenth-century British exploration.

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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Chaucer on 19 May 2011
Format: Hardcover
This book is an extraordinary achievement: Brandt manages to blend together the stories of the many expeditions throughout the nineteenth century, by land and sea, that led to the mapping of the Western Arctic in the search for the Northwest Passage. He also gives the historical context of the period because this had a direct impact on the expeditions. Although an unlikely hero, Sir John Franklin is pivotal to the whole story: he not only led expeditions but it was, somewhat ironically, the many rescue missions for his final ill fated attempt that led to the `discovery' of the Passage.

Brandt shows how the public were thrilled by the daring deeds of these explorers and the hunt for the Northwest Passage became a national obsession. The exploits of these men entered the public imagination: Shelley's Frankenstein tells his story to a sea captain in the Arctic and, more recently, Pullman's Dark Materials uses the names of explorers Parry and Scoresby and the setting of Svalbard. Throughout the nineteenth century there was a touching, but tragic, naivety among the public that the discovery of the Northwest Passage was destined to be a British triumph. The belief that, whatever the hardships, British seamen would win through, led to loss of life and unimaginable hardship.

The book is a terrific read, full of fascinating information and interesting characters: Jane Franklin deserves a whole book in her own right and was responsible for many of the rescue expeditions that led to the successful mapping of the area. Brandt is to be commended for commemorating the courage of these men but for never losing sight of the appalling consequences of "this spectacular piece of folly...."
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Keen Reader TOP 50 REVIEWER on 4 Jan. 2015
Format: Hardcover
‘The winter went, the summer went,
The winter came around;
But the hard green ice was strong as death,
And the voice of hope sank to a breach,
Yet caught at every sound.’
- George Boker, “A Ballad of Sir John Franklin”

I’m definitely on a roll lately with reading books about the search for the North-west passage, and those who spent their professional careers, and sometimes lost their lives, in such a search.

This book takes its title from a reference made at the time to John Franklin, after the disastrous Coppermine Expedition of 1819-22, when a number of the men died, and the survivors had been reduced to eating anything they could find, including their untreated leather shoes, rotting caribou skins, and moss from the side of rocks.

The book is not about Franklin in that it is not a biography of him, but the scope of the book does encompass his life (and the search for his fate); from his involvement in the first British expedition to the north of Spitzbergen in 1818, to the fatal 1845 expedition in the Erebus and the Terror, which disappeared and which led to endless speculation and a number of rescue/recovery investigations up to 1880, and the American Geographical Society expedition under Schwatka overland to King William Island. The nineteenth century was one of science, reason, advances in technology and global exploration, and the search for the Northwest Passage, and the mapping of the Arctic largely became a ‘peculiarly British’ obsession.

This is a most interesting book. I think its title is a pity, as the story is about much more than John Franklin, and may be misleading to casual observers.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By BruceCambs on 9 Dec. 2011
Format: Hardcover
From a non-scholastic view of someone who just finds arctic and antarctic endeavours fascinating, I found the book wonderful. It puts across the thrill of the time, and places it in context without ever losing the simple schoolboy delight in the strange efforts to find the North-West Passage. Why do it at all when the likelihood of success is so fragile? But the reader is engaged dramatically and is caught up in the dangers and the sheer idiocy of some of the ventures into the arctic wastelands. I would strongly recommend this book for anyone wishing to understand whatever drove these often simple men to such extremes of danger with the simplest of equipment. There are many books that perhaps are more factual, but 'Boots' is a wonderfully engaging read.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By bookelephant on 19 Sept. 2011
Format: Hardcover
The story of the loss of Sir John Franklin and his men in their attempt to find the Northwest passage is a classic, as the huge number of books and continued investment of scholarship in the subject testify. I was, to be honest, a little sceptical about the need for this book against the numerous other excellent books of recent years. However I very much enjoyed it (subject to a few niggles I'll come to below) and felt that it gave a really good, readable round up of the story. It may well not be to the taste of those of have read a number of the other books - it doesn't really bring anything new to the table - but as an introduction or as an overview if you have only read books which deal with one aspect, it is very worthwhile. Brandt has mastered the materials well, and has a very engaging style so (again subject to niggles) it is likely to find a place in the "cracking historical reads" section. And some bits were really exceptional: I felt that his account of Franklin's original boot-eating trip was the best I have read to date.
The niggles? Structurally I felt it lacked focus. The problem caused by the wealth of scholarhsip is that there is really too much material, and keeping the story on track is difficult. So here given this was really a book about Franklin and not about the full range of searches for the passge (that's Glyn William's excellent Arctic Labyrinth: The Quest for the Northwest Passage or the nineteenth century political issue (exhaustivaly covered in
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