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NINETY DEGREES NORTH: The Quest for the North Pole by Fergus Fleming (Granta Books, hb, Pp469, 20 [pounds sterling])

Fergus Fleming came to prevalence with Barrow's Boys, a dangerous and often comic tale of the Admiralty Secretary John Barrow's 19th century programme of exploration of those parts of the world that had never before been seen. While these efforts may in part have been to justify Navy budgets, it is startling that so recently his "boys" should have been facing such questions as was there a North West passage and did Antarctica even exist?

The shadow of Barrow's ambition also hangs over Fleming's latest book, Ninety Degrees North, which continues the story, this time tackling the conquest of the North Pole. Though always the less glamourous challenge to its southern counterpart, the North Pole proved just as tricky to overwhelm. For a start, there are five separate geographical points which could be considered to be the Pole itself. Secondly, poor cartography and a baffling array of international measurements made it difficult to judge whether the goal had actually been reached; both Robert Peary and Frederick Cook would return to accusations of falsification. Furthermore the usual litany of bad luck, frostbite and poor preparation came into play.

While Fleming at times seems to rely too heavily on the work of other historians, there are few people writing today who can capture the lunatic spirit of adventure that possessed these often suicidal missions so well. His true territory lies where legitimate science gives way to the mad dash for glory.

Fleming often raises a grim smile in a book which is inspirational, frightening and funny by turns.

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Title Annotation:Review; Ninety Degrees North: The Quest for the North Pole
Author:Martin, Chris
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 2001
Previous Article:Excavation Impossible.

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