| "...the bottom line is that Bryce had
made up his mind about Peary before he ever put pen to
paper...THE NORTH POLE is a fine book with the
misfortune to be introduced by a character assassin."
important to know where Bryce is coming from. By his own
admission, he started ... into the "polar controversy"
as an ardent supporter of Frederick Cook, the colossal
is the capable, honest and intelligent man Bryce
denigrates so thoroughly and falsely as to be
slanderous. Despite concrete evidence and contemporary
testimony to the contrary, Bryce paints a picture of an
illiterate, dissembling black man, who, after years of
experience in the arctic, could be duped into believing,
or persuaded by Peary to lie about, reaching the Pole.
So far as I know, Bryce is the first person to accuse
Henson of being a liar."
|Eskimo women posing on
the deck of the Roosevelt in 1909. Another famous shot
has them lined up like a chorus line, kicking. This was
probably the doing of fun-loving Borup and MacMillan.
An overexposed shot of the sun at the
Pole has since been underexposed in printing the
negative to reveal this surprising bit of evidence. The
sun's angle above the horizon can be determined just as
if we were taking a sextant reading back in 1909.
Shameless Self-Promotion in the Negative Introduction,
Reviewer: Robert Peary Stafford (Peary descendant)
This otherwise excellent book
by Robert E Peary is marred, perhaps fatally, by the
wholly negative "Introduction" by Robert Bryce. Having
Bryce prepare an "introduction" to a book by Peary is
like having Monica Lewinsky preface a Bill & Hillary
book on domestic bliss.
Bryce, a vindictive, prejudiced and un-traveled
librarian, has written a tedious 1000-page error-fill
tome purporting to "resolve" the polar controversy, and
now shamelessly seeks to promote himself on the backs of
men who risked their lives to accomplish deeds of
Peary dedicated his life to Arctic exploration.
He was the most accomplished arctic explorer America has
ever produced. He was also the beneficiary of the aid,
assistance and resolve of another great American,
Matthew Henson, who happened to be black. To Bryce,
however, Peary's 1909 expedition was a fraud. Peary
himself never really intended to try to get to the Pole;
instead he decided to fake the accomplishment. And, what
of Peary's companion, Henson? Well, Bryce is ambivalent.
Either Peary deceived poor, ignorant, illiterate (read
Steppin Fetchit) Negro, Henson, or Henson was a liar
It is important to know where Bryce is coming from.
By his own admission, he started his tendentious and
spurious investigation into the "polar controversy" as
an ardent supporter of Frederick Cook, the colossal
fraud who claimed to have reached the Pole in 1908.
Thus, his objectives were, first, to prove Cook's claim
genuine and, second, Peary's false. As he delved into
the materials, Cook's fraud became so manifest that even
Bryce reached the conclusion (reluctantly) that Cook had
faked his claim. But that did nothing to change his mind
about Peary. So he developed the thesis that Cook really
and truly tried to reach the Pole, but failed. Peary may
have tried earlier, but in 1909, he never seriously
intended to try for the Pole.
Bryce stuck to this thesis, untroubled by the fact that
Cook's genuine effort ended more than 400 miles short of
the Pole, while Peary's "ruse" took him, beyond
peradventure, to within 130 miles of the Pole [after
which everyone agrees he continued his northward
journey]. Apparently, Peary and Henson could accomplish
more without intending it, than the hapless Cook by a
Ignores scientific evidence
Bryce was further untroubled by the finding of the
Navigation Foundation (re-affirmed when other
photographs were later discovered) that analysis of over
a dozen of Peary's polar photographs placed him within
3-8 miles of the Pole -- as close, in other words, as he
could have been within the tolerance of his navigational
Bryce was not, however, untroubled by Henson. Here was a
man who had sailed all over the world, who spent twenty
years in the arctic, who was beloved by the Inuits, who
was as famous for his endurance and courage as he was
for his ability to judge the distances he travel over
the featureless ice. It is this capable, honest and
intelligent man that Bryce denigrates so thoroughly and
falsely as to be slanderous. Despite concrete evidence
and contemporary testimony to the contrary, Bryce paints
a picture of an illiterate, dissembling black man, who,
after years of experience in the arctic, could be duped
into believing, or persuaded by Peary to lie about,
reaching the Pole. So far as I know, Bryce is the first
person to accuse Henson of being a liar.
But the bottom line is that Bryce had made up his mind
about Peary before he ever put pen to paper; if Henson's
name and reputation had to be sacrificed to make Bryce's
conclusions plausible, then it was Henson's mistake to
associate himself with Peary. Bryce certainly wasn't
going to change his mind!
This edition of THE NORTH POLE is a fine book with the
misfortune to be introduced by a character assassin.
Ignore that "zero stars" new introduction,
Russell R. Robinson (son of Matthew Henson's official biographer)
This rare book sells for $500 in fine condition
so it is nice to see it back in print. Even a good
reading copy is about $150. But this edition has a "new
introduction" by the same librarian who put out that
1,000-page biography of Dr. Cook a few years back. His
adoration for Pole hoaxer Cook is well established. In
this edition of Peary's book the publisher is using over
20 pages from his Cook biography. The gist is that Peary
was a fake and never reached the Pole. But the
publisher, in a sensational style, placed a "YOU DECIDE"
splash on the cover (Cook or Peary?). The meaning of
which is lost as the introduction tells you no one
reached the Pole. So what is to decide?
Skip the "new" introduction. Read it after you read the
original ones and the original book. The introduction,
to this public domain reprint, is so downbeat that I
imagine an unsophisticated reader would be too depressed
to read Peary's classic work. I believe the point is not
really to offer his 1910 work to the public, but to
persuade the reader to some other agenda. That is a
shame, as this is a fascinating work.
Peary was a civil engineer and Naval officer. His
approach to reaching the North Pole was a mixture of
those two disciplines. His technique took years to
evolve and be perfected; it was very complicated and
extremely expensive. But where literally hundreds of
others had died, or returned crippled from the
amputation of frozen body parts, Peary suffered no such
casualties. (Well, an Eskimo shot one man.) His book
details the complications of taking an entire Eskimo
village on his special ship with hundreds of dogs for an
entire winter; like factory workers he kept them sane
and occupied making sledges, fur clothing, dog harnesses
from walrus hide, even manufacturing from raw materials
small cans to carry their alcohol fuel.
The logistics of it are fantastic even today. Imagine
being further north than any ship had ever wintered
over, in the black Arctic night, 50 degrees below zero,
no contact with civilization, in a virtual bedlam of
dogs and very smelly Eskimos! Then the heavy hauling of
tons of supplies to the base camp began. The assault
towards the Pole put 24 men with 130+ dogs onto the
The Arctic Ocean ice sheets split apart or ram
together without warning. The later can be so loud
they called it "deafening". The former so dangerous that
in one instance their camp of igloos split apart with
one group floating away on an ice sheet. Remember - they
had no cell phones, no helicopters, nor any other modern
devices. It is 50 degrees below zero and your hands will
freeze solid in a few minutes if you take your gloves
off to untangle the dog harnesses or repair a sledge.
Men are sent back as they freeze a heel - a frozen nose
doesn't count because you can still walk! This is Hell,
a deadly and frozen Hell.
Yet Peary's army marches on day after day, men exhausted
from ice axing their way through hundreds of miles of
"ice rubble" and ridges. In the end all supporting
groups are gone and the lead party finally reaches the
greatest disappointment Peary could have found. There is
no North Pole. There was no land, no ocean bottom he
could measure. Only a geographic point in a frozen
desert that was constantly drifting with the currents so
that even the traditional explorer's cairn (marker) had
no meaning. What a total bust. If only he had found
So Peary satisfied the geographers by filling in the
"unexplored regions" on their maps, but left with only
his word that he had been there. And that was soon a hot
debate due to polar hoaxer Cook who stole his glory and
ruined what should have been his rewards. It would take
80 years until technology could affirm what Peary said
in 1909 was true - that he had indeed "nailed the stars
and stripes to the North Pole".
Despite the introductory criticism of Peary as a person
his work, The North Pole, is the crown jewel of 19th
century exploration. After Peary the world would need a
much higher technology than the Eskimo dog sledge to
make progress. Reaching the ocean depths, the limits of
the atmosphere, breaking the sound barrier, and
ultimately the Moon were in store for those who came
later. But this achievement, The North Pole, will always
be the pinnacle of what man and animal can achieve in
terms of cooperation, courage, and sheer force of will.
Peary refused to fail
Love him or hate him, Peary will always be, as his
biographer put it, "the man who refused to fail". So
refuse to let the introduction steer you away. Read it
after you read Peary’s account. That is, if you’re still
interested in what someone 80 years after the fact
thinks about Commander Robert E. Peary, USN. I think you
will agree he did indeed reach the place where there is
no east or west and every direction is south. He did it
only because he "refused to fail".