Icebound by Andrea Pitzer

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: You should probably take warm clothes with you to the Arctic.

Quick synopsis: The voyages of Dutch Explorer William Barents in attempts to find the Northeast Passage. No, not the Northwest Passage, the Northeast Passage.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: People used to believe geese were magical creatures because they never found where geese laid their eggs. Barents and his fellow crewmen solved this puzzle by mistake. They found geese nests in the high Arctic where humans had not been before.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: I never thought about this before, but why do humans get scurvy and a bunch of animals without access to vitamin C don’t? Turns out, some animals can synthesize vitamin C. Guess who can’t? Humans. 

My Take: You would think if you were headed somewhere with icebergs, you might pack for the occasion. Not William Barents and his crew!

Barents is a name well known to anyone interested in the Arctic like me. However, I really had no idea what he did. His name is plastered on water in the area of Russia, but I didn’t know why (and you didn’t either so don’t get smug).

Barents and his ship were looking for the Northeast Passage. Yes, we all know about the quest for the Northwest Passage, but it stands to reason explorers tried just as hard to go the other way! They did! And it usually turned out quite badly!

This book chronicles Barents’ three attempts to find it. Well, one time was just to check on some land you never heard of to see if it was an Arctic continent. Details, details. These attempts were undertaken in the late 1500s which means there is not a tremendous amount of firsthand information to pull from like later attempts at the poles, but Pitzer does a good job with what she has.

Verdict: A good book about someone whose name you would have heard if you love Arctic exploration, but probably never knew the full story.

If You Liked This Try:

  • David Welky, A Wretched and Precarious Situation
  • 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
  • Buddy Levy, Labyrinth of Ice
  • Alfred Lansing, Endurance
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Icebound by Andrea Pitzer
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