Around the turn of the 20th century, polar exploration became the symbol of national pride and individual worth. Ernest Shackleton, Robert Scott, Roald Amundsen, and Robert Peary, among others, ensured themselves a place in history for their daring assaults on two of the most inhospitable regions on earth: the North and South Poles. In the course of their explorations, these men pitted themselves against a merciless landscape--Shackleton's ship was crushed in Antarctic ice; Scott and four companions died in a howling blizzard on their way back from the South Pole. If walking to the Poles was difficult, flying there presented its own set of problems. Yet, in 1926 Admiral Richard E. Byrd and his pilot, Floyd Bennett, set out to fly over the North Pole. According to Byrd, they succeeded. In the decades since this feat, a shadow of doubt has crept over Byrd's claim. Critics question whether Byrd could have flown to the Pole and back in the amount of time that actually elapsed between his takeoff and return to Spitsbergen, Greenland; allegations that Byrd's calculations were incorrect bolstered hearsay gossip that Bennett had told another pilot that they'd never reached the Pole.
More than 70 years later, new evidence, in the form of a rediscovered diary of Admiral Byrd, throws fresh fuel on the flames of controversy. Raimund E. Goerler, an archivist at Ohio State University, discovered Byrd's handwritten account of the flight in 1996, but rather than laying all doubt to rest once and for all, the diary only serves to further muddy the waters. There are, for example, the suspicious erasures of calculations--innocent errors or a deliberate attempt to fudge the data? In To the Pole, Goerler offers up both Byrd's journal and the opinions of experts on both sides of the controversy in this evenhanded treatment of a historical puzzle.From Kirkus Reviews:
This contribution to polar historya contextualized and annotated reproduction of Richard Byrd's scant diary during the most important years of his lifefrom Ohio State University archivist Goerler will likely be of interest to only the most fanatical scholars of Arctic and Antarctic exploration. During the years covered here, Byrd conducted his path-breaking expedition to Greenland, undertook the controversial North Pole flight, and made the third transatlantic flight. He kept a rather hasty diary (Byrd admits it ``is a very poor affair indeed. The most uninteresting [diary] ever written,'' and he's not far wrong). Goerler unearthed the journal while cataloging Byrd's papers. As Byrd scribbled his entries almost randomly, Goerler has gone to the trouble of deciphering their arrangement, setting them in chronological order, and adding explanatory notes. Each of the three expeditions gets a chapter, and each chapter is introduced by Goerler with a biographical sketch of Byrd at the time. Don't expect any earth-shattering discoveriesthe North Pole flight remains as controversial as ever. But readers will take away a little taste of what (supposedly) transpired between Byrd and his pilot Floyd Bennett during the flight. While the airplane's engines thundered, making conversation impossible, Byrd communicated to Bennett by writing instructions in the diary and showing them to Bennett: ``You must not persist in keeping too far to the right.'' The diary is also a reminder that not all great achievements are accompanied by nonstop thrills; the entries suggest great prairies of boredom and logisitics punctuated by flashes of intense excitement. The fact that Byrd kept the diary at all leads one to believe he had nothing to hide. Experts will pore over the sextant readings, looking for clues; most folks will dip into these pages for the brief you-were-there moments. (b&w photos) -- Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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