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Ice Ghosts

The Epic Hunt for the Lost Franklin Expedition
Written by: Paul Watson
Narrated by: Malcolm Hillgartner
Length: 12 hrs and 22 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (27 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

The spellbinding story of the greatest cold case in Arctic history - and how the rare mix of marine science and Inuit knowledge finally led to the recent discovery of the shipwrecks.

Spanning nearly 200 years, Ice Ghosts is a fast-paced detective story about Western science, indigenous beliefs, and the irrepressible spirit of exploration and discovery. It weaves together an epic account of the legendary Franklin Expedition of 1845 - whose two ships, the HMS Erebus and the HMS Terror, and their crew of 129 were lost to the Arctic ice - with the modern tale of the scientists, researchers, divers, and local Inuit behind the recent discoveries of the two ships, which made news around the world.

The journalist Paul Watson was on the icebreaker that led the expedition that discovered the HMS Erebus in 2014, and he broke the news of the discovery of the HMS Terror in 2016. In a masterful work of history and contemporary reporting, he tells the full story of the Franklin Expedition: Sir John Franklin and his crew setting off from England in search of the fabled Northwest Passage; the hazards they encountered and the reasons they were forced to abandon ship after getting stuck in the ice hundreds of miles from the nearest outpost of Western civilization; and the dozens of search expeditions over more than 160 years, which collectively have been called "the most extensive, expensive, perverse, and ill-starred...manhunt in history".

All that searching turned up a legendary trail of sailors' relics, a fabled note, a lifeboat with skeletons lying next to loaded rifles, and rumors of cannibalism...but no sign of the ships until, finally, the discoveries in our own time. As Watson reveals, the epic hunt for the lost Franklin Expedition found success only when searchers combined the latest marine science with faith in Inuit lore that had been passed down orally for generations.

Ice Ghosts is narrative nonfiction of the highest order, full of drama and rich in characters: Lady Jane Franklin, who almost single-handedly kept the search alive for decades; an Inuit historian who worked for decades gathering elders' accounts; an American software billionaire who launched his own hunt; and underwater archaeologists honing their skills to help find the ships. Watson also shows how the hunt for the Franklin Expedition was connected to such technological advances as scuba gear and sonar technology and how it ignited debates over how to preserve the relics discovered with the ships.

A modern adventure story that arcs back through history, Ice Ghosts tells the complete and incredible story of the Franklin Expedition - the greatest of Arctic mysteries - for the ages.

©2017 Paul Watson (P)2017 Penguin Random House Canada

What the critics say

"A splendid achievement." (Ken McGoogan, Globe and Mail)
"Riveting.... An engrossing chronicle of a legendary doomed naval voyage and the nearly 200-year effort to bring the Franklin Expedition to a close." ( Booklist)

What members say

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Great Canadian Story

I knew about this story from recent news coverage but had no idea of the history behind it. What a great story that was! The hubris of the British Royal Navy, the Inuit accounts, Lady Franklin.

Highly recommended.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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What a recovery mission!

In today’s $$, the money spent, more than any other search and recovery and at last we found them. A lot of history and knowledge of the great white north. I was engrossed in the story of the search for the North West passage and the ultimate sacrifice of Franklin and his crew. Then the 150 year tale of the journey for the missing ships. The story dragged a touch with all the early details and names of the early arctic explorers but picked up as modern story took over. I recommend a listen.

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  • Ben
  • 2018-01-31

So much more than just Franklin - amazing work!

I found this history of the Franklin Expedition, and the search for its lost ships and crew, absolutely fascinating!

The book does a very good job outlining the mission of Franklin and his crew in exploring the Canadian Arctic in search of the Northwest Passage. It also details the experiences of those left at home, most notably Lady Jane Franklin, who kept the hope of finding her husband and his crew, alive or dead, for many decades to come.

Watson is a great writer, and investigator. I really appreciated how he dealt with the treatment of Inuit traditions and oral history, as experienced in the age of Franklin and in this decade as the ships were found. The characters were treated with respect, with reverence, and with a good degree of acknowledgement for their understanding of the north and the Franklin history. They are truly the heroes of this story, especially the third part (the finding of the lost ships), even though from our Eurocentric view we so naturally fall for Franklin and the bumbling Royal Navy, relying on pluck and good Christian morals to combat years surviving in the Arctic. I feel such pride for Canada in having as remarkable of citizens as those in the North, and especially those involved in the Franklin search. Their work recording and exploring oral histories and traditions to the point of knowing exactly where the ships were (within a few kilometres) - knowledge that had been available in the 1840s had the Europeans just asked - is phenomenal and should be held in great regard. I hope more archaeological expeditions and historical works turn to those holders of local knowledge.

While I knew a bit about Franklin's Expedition going into this book, I was enthralled learning about the peculiar spiritualist/psychic elements of the search for the lost ship, and also about the innovative Canadian story in the modern day search. It is amazing that psychically-inclined individuals all around the world could be placing the wrecks in correct locations years before there were even maps of the area, and decades before validating artifacts were found. And then, a century later, Canadian inventors using homemade diving gear invent and refine a new field of marine archaeology. These innovations and inventions - and their inventors - would later come to play a major role in the search for and exploration of the wrecks of the Erebus and Terror.

It truly is an amazing story.

The narrator is also a great player in this story. There a few Canadian words (Metis, Dalhousie, and toque) that are wildly mis-pronounced, but overall the story is well read.

I highly recommend this book!