review: Peary’s account of his North Pole Expedition

FINALLY! Finally! I have made it through this endless book.

Somehow, even though the trip seemed more dangerous and more exciting than Amundsen’s South Pole trip, I just found it a lot less captivating. (Perhaps I just have polar fatigue after reading both books in one summer.)

A huge disappointment, too, involved his treatment of Matt Hansen, the African-American who was with Peary at the pole, along with 4 eskimos.

I had pegged Peary as some sort of color-blind visionary who had chosen Hansen despite his color and perhaps saw him as a near equal.

WRONG.

After many, many, many pages of barely mentioning Hansen, Peary finally starts to “praise” him just as they are about to reach the pole. But the praise soon turns into a slap in the face.

When other white members of the expedition are ordered to turn back early, Hansen gets to keep going. We learn, directly from Peary, that one reason he kept going was that Peary didn’t think a member of the black race had what it took to make it back by himself. WHAT?

I wonder what Hansen thought when he read that, afer all he went through to help Peary to the pole.

I also suspect that Peary purposefully sent all other white men back, so that he would be the only white man to reach the pole. As if, four eskimos and a black man didn’t really count. Peary’s head-patting treatment of the Eskimos as “children of the North” is ugly as well.

So, with that sort of ugliness coming at the book’s climax, you can see why I’m glad to be done with it. Yes, there are some theoretically exciting things in it, such as using an ice floe as a boat to cross open water.  But it’s so dang braggy that one tires of it all.

(In fairness, a bit of racism crept into Amundsen’s book as well. Geez, can’t anybody just go to the pole and back without putting down African-Americans? I suppose it shows how pervasive that sort of view was in the early 1900s. What a struggle to overcome such embedded ignorance.)

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