What is it about the Far North that not only causes people to risk their lives to explore it but also draws people to read about it?
I’m not sure, and neither is Berton, but he sure writes a good book about five people whose lives in some ways were defined and/or determined by the North – Joe Boyle, Vihjalmur Stefansson, Jane Franklin, John Hornby, and Robert Service.
Both Service and Franklin might be considered to be unusual subjects. It is unclear whether Franklin is present simply to include a woman or simply because of her impact on the search for her husband, John Franklin, whose fate while searching for the Northwest Passage, is part of Canada’s history and mythology.
It would be just to say that Berton takes hands off approach and doesn’t seem to condemn much of his subjects. He points out their failings, but larger issues are mention and not fully debated. Stefansson’s relationship with an Inuit woman is dealt with, but his behavior in terms of Wrangel Island, really isn’t. Berton saves his harshest language for Hornby whose behavior not only lead to his own death but that of two other people.