Doomed Expeditions is a collection of stories about… doomed expeditions. Some of the stories were very interesting. Others were, well, depressing.
The idea of the book was to deviate from the usual ‘explorers’ book (which always ends with the explorer achieving his goal) and show how most explorers never reach their destinations and many die in the attempt.
There were four accounts in this book. They are outlined briefly below.
The Starvation Trail. It was the century of the Great West. The year was 1846 and George Donner was leading an expedition through the Sierra Nevadas. The plan was to take a route which would save them four hundred miles – but it had only been tried once before. That party had survived, but barely. Now, Donner decided to try it. The trip was a disaster from the start; the information that Donner was using to guide his party was inaccurate and innumerable hardships piled their weight upon the party. Worst of all, the entire group was snowed into a small mountain valley for the entire winter. Of the eighty-seven who started on the trip, forty-seven lived to see California.
Lost on the Ice. The Northwest Passage – a naval shortcut which allowed ships to sail over instead of under the Americas – was the goal. Sir John Franklin was the man who determined to achieve that goal. In 1845, he and his two ships the Erebus and the Terror set sail for the Arctic Ocean. Their progress was slow. For two successive winters they were frozen into the ice; when the summer came the seas melted for but a short time before they hardened over again. Nearly three years after their journey began, the order was given to abandon ship and trek south. But the order was too late. Every man that began the trip died before he could complete it.
Mallory vs. Everest. For years, men dreamed of conquering Mount Everest’s peak. Many tried it; many failed. In 1924, George Mallory decided to make his third attempt. There is no such thing as a mountain-climbing expedition without at least one close brush with death. But for such a trip, this one was going fairly well. On the last day before the peak should have been reached, Mallory and his companion set off for the peak. Several hours later, they were spotted struggling upward on the mountainside. It was the last time either of them was ever seen.
Amelia Earhart’s Last Flight. Amelia Earhart was already famous for being the first woman to fly over the Atlantic Ocean. But she was determined to set another aviation record – to be the first to fly around the world at the equator, a flight of 27,000 miles. Amelia faced several problems towards the beginning of her flight, but as her trip progressed, these seemed to melt away. There was only one more chance for things to go wrong. And that is where they went wrong. No one quite knows what happened to Amelia after she missed her stop at Howland Island. And no one ever heard from her again.
On one of the trips, one man murders another.
On one trip, when speed was of the utmost importance, the travelers leave an old man to die rather than take the time and energy to rescue him.
Several people engage in cannibalism to survive. They are ashamed of themselves, but also desperate to live.
Credit is once given to ‘Mother Nature’ for a change in weather.
Conclusion. Doomed Expeditions is not the most amazing book in the world, but it’s not bad, either. It’s just okay. If I am going to read about great hardships, I generally like those who suffer through them to be rewarded in some way other than dying, but perhaps that’s just my personal taste. ; )
Review © 2013 Laura Verret