Custom Search

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Race to the Polar Sea: The Heroic Adventures of Elisha Kent by Ken McGoogan

Elisha Kent Kane was one of the most famous explorers in American history but as biographer Ken McGoogan details in his new book, Race to the Polar Sea, Kane’s achievements have largely been forgotten. McGoogan’s book goes a long way towards returning Kane to his rightful position in the adventure and scientific pantheon, and through unprecedented access to the long missing first volume of Kane’s private journal from his second expedition he provides valuable insight into Kane’s motivations and concerns. Most significantly to 21st century environmentalists, McGoogan also discusses the wealth of climate data Kane collected and its relevance to current global warming research.

Kane, born in 1820, was part of a dynamic family who supported him as he sought his own path. Struggling against illness for much of his life, Kane still managed to fight in the Mexican American War and then pursue a degree in medicine. Becoming a town doctor held no interest however and McGoogan weaves family letters into the narrative to show Kane’s increasing unwillingness to lead a predictable life. With the help of his father he was able to obtain a commission to the navy and then, while waiting for an assignment, embarked on an around-the-world tour which at one point took him literally into the heart of a volcano. “Crawling upon our hands and knees,” McGoogan quotes Kane, “the lava within six inches of our noses, suddenly our heads jutted up above the crest of the volcano, and the magnificence of the crater, literally a coup d’oeil, burst upon us.” In these early chapters McGoogan shows Kane’s intense desire for something more than his respectable yet staid upbringing. It was no surprise then that he leaped at the chance to join the 1850 Grinnell expedition in search of missing British explorer John Franklin.

No comments:

Post a Comment