A Wretched and Precarious Situation by David Welky

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: Wretched and precarious for them, fun for us.

Quick synopsis: The story of the Crocker Land expedition where Artic explorers went in search of Crocker Land first glimpsed but unexplored by a previous expedition.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: Go to a map and find Crocker Land. I’ll wait.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: Robert E. Peary, famed explorer was the genesis of the expedition because he claimed to see Crocker Land on a previous expedition. This is the same Peary purported to have made it to the North Pole first but with some controversy. This book does not solve the puzzle of who made it first, but it gives a lot of context for it.  

My Take: Welky has a hell of story to tell and he does it well. He gives us the background of the main players and really sets the stage to understand how these people tick and what drives them. The story in and of itself is quite fascinating because it does have so many complex characters and tons of twists and turns. Very often, there are no heroes in this book, just humans trying to survive and make scientific discoveries.

If that were not enough, there is also a surprising death early in the book and a murder later on. If I didn’t know this was history, I would swear it was fiction. Welky’s biggest strength is keeping the story moving without rushing to the payoff. The book runs over 400 pages, but it never slows down too much to lag. Arctic and Antarctic survival stories need to make the point of crushing monotony when stuck in the extreme north or south. Welky makes his points but keeps the story moving.

And the final quarter, which covers the attempts to escape the Arctic, is truly a comedy of errors in a literal sense. You will find people who have been quite adept at making the right decisions for an entire book end up acting like complete idiots before it’s over. Welky never paints this survival story as anything but serious, but you will find yourself laughing at how ridiculous the escape becomes.

Verdict: Great book which is well written and has a great story. This is a good book for anyone as it almost reads like a novel, but it is a must read for anyone into the Arctic/Antarctic or survival stories.

If You Liked This Try:

  • Alfred Lansing, Endurance
  • Bruce Henderson, Fatal North
  • Jennifer Niven, The Ice Master
  • Hampton Sides, In the Kingdom of Ice
  • Stephen Brown, Island of Blue Foxes
  • Leonard Guttridge, Ghosts of Cape Sabine
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A Wretched and Precarious Situation by David Welky
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