Empire of Ice and Stone: The Disastrous and Heroic Voyage of the Karluk

Fresh off his previous book about Arctic survival, Buddy Levy (Labyrinth of Ice) returns with another bone-chilling polar history in Empire of Ice and Stone, which focuses on the Karluk disaster. In 1913, Vilhjalmur Stefansson created the Canadian Arctic Expedition and hired renowned master mariner Captain Robert "Bob" Bartlett to pilot the Karluk, which carried an assortment of crew members and scientists. Bartlett, "ranked among the Olympians of polar exploration," was the antithesis of the "chameleon-like" and fame-seeking Stefansson, according to Levy; this dichotomy of character would ultimately define the disaster.

The Karluk departed British Columbia for the Arctic Ocean in June 1913, but after approximately six weeks, giant ice floes entrapped the wooden-hulled ship off Alaska. So began the ship's dangerous drift westward away from land, precipitating Stefansson's craven decision several months later to abandon the expedition for an ostensible caribou hunt. Making it to back to civilization, Stefansson faced tough questions about leaving the Karluk to its fate and would for the rest of his life. The hero here is Bartlett, forced into de facto leadership of the expedition and who undertook a mind-boggling journey for hundreds of miles over ice and land to rescue the shipwrecked survivors, left behind on the forbidding Wrangel Island, "an empire of ice and stone." Levy is never better than when conjuring the deep cold of the Arctic or capturing the elemental shades of suffering human beings can endure. Readers who love a well-told Arctic tale of adventure and courage should add Empire of Ice and Stone to their winter reading. --Peggy Kurkowski, book reviewer and copywriter in Denver

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