A Wretched and Precarious Situation
In Search of the Last Arctic Frontier
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A Kirkus Reviews Best Nonfiction Book of 2016
A remarkable true story of adventure, betrayal, and survival set in one of the world’s most inhospitable places.
In 1906, from atop a snow-swept hill in the ice fields northwest of Greenland, hundreds of miles from another human being, Commander Robert E. Peary spotted a line of mysterious peaks looming in the distance. He called this unexplored realm “Crocker Land.” Scientists and explorers agreed that the world-famous explorer had discovered a new continent rising from the frozen Arctic Ocean.
Several years later, two of Peary’s disciples, George Borup and Donald MacMillan, assembled a team of amateur adventurers to investigate Crocker Land. Before them lay a chance at the kind of lasting fame enjoyed by Magellan, Columbus, and Captain Cook. While filling in the last blank space on the globe, they might find new species of plants or animals, or even men; in the era of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells, anything seemed possible. Renowned scientific institutions, and even former president Theodore Roosevelt, rushed to endorse the expedition.
What followed was a sequence of events that none of the explorers could have imagined. Trapped in a true-life adventure story, the men endured howling blizzards, unearthly cold, food shortages, isolation, a fatal boating accident, a drunken sea captain, disease, dissension, and a horrific crime. But the team pushed on through every obstacle, driven forward by the mystery of Crocker Land and faint hopes that they someday would make it home.
Populated with a cast of memorable characters, and based on years of research in previously untapped sources, A Wretched and Precarious Situation is a harrowing Arctic narrative unlike any other.
- November 2016
- 6.6 × 9.6 in
/ 512 pages
- Sales Territory: Worldwide
Endorsements & Reviews
“What a book!....Excellent writing that combines some of the serious novelist’s techniques with information that can only come from hundreds of hours with long-forgotten diaries, letters and newspaper accounts....Comparable but better-known authors in the genre include David McCullough, John Barry and Timothy Egan.” — Bill Streever, Dallas Morning News
“Polar historians…will be grateful to have the Crocker Land expedition properly documented.” — New York Times Book Review
“David Welky reveals in this engrossing account....the classic litany of illness, privation and howling blizzards, [and] a singularly bizarre finding about [polar explorer Robert] Peary's original sighting.” — Nature
“"Drawing on extensive expedition diaries....This is a classic explorer’s narrative, pitting ambition against the limits of endurance."” — Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Making magnificent use of documents and recreating the years-long Arctic sojourn with the drama and immediacy of a tension-filled adventure novel, [Welky] conjures a romantic quest emblematic of the rugged manliness of the time…vastly entertaining.” — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Welky’s well-judged and well-written revival of this obscure expedition augurs to be as popular as any in the polar-exploration genre.” — Booklist (starred review)
“Evenhanded and thoroughly researched….This book fills a significant and often overlooked piece of the Arctic exploration puzzle. Arctic enthusiasts, armchair adventurers, and dreamers of lost worlds will find much to appreciate.” — Library Journal
“Welky is a superb writer, and he mines the interpersonal relationships of the expedition’s participants – the loyalties, the friendships grown or torn asunder, the cultural insensitivities – as effectively as he describes the travel, the exploration into unknown territory, and the constant flirtation with death at the hands of the elements.” — The Arctic Book Review
“Unravels the strange story of one of the world’s greatest discoveries that never was.” — Simon Worrall, National Geographic