Book Review

Labyrinth of Ice: A historical tale of survival in the Polar North makes for a chilling winter’s read

Consider this one of the America’s strangest national landmarks — Fort Conger, a scientific research post originally built in 1881 by an American expedition in a remote and frozen area of Nunavit, Canada.

Some might call it the world’s most northern haunted house.

Over two dozen men — fronted by Civil War vet Adolphus Greely — lived and worked here for two years, battling a hostile environment to conquer the so-called Farthest North, an almost mystical destination that, if reached, would hold both international glory and economic possibility.

Labyrinth of Ice

The Triumphant and Tragic Greely Polar Expedition

Buddy Levy

St. Martin’s Press

But Labyrinth of Ice, Buddy Levy’s immersive new history of the Greely Expedition, doesn’t bask in scientific particulars. This is a study of historical horror, a tale of dire circumstances, survival and determination in one of the most remote areas on the planet.

After two years of work and exploration — through months of icy darkness — Greely and his men slowly realize that no rescue expedition was coming to retrieve them. In fact, a frozen wall of ice (and even some frustrating bureaucratic delays in Washington D.C.) had sealed their fate.

Library of Congress

The men were on their own. Their only chance for survival meant a retreat south through desperate conditions — over ice floes, along frozen waters.

Levy displays a unique gift of evoking genuine immediacy with historical material. The reader is steeped in the adventurers’ stark, remote circumstances, a benefit of having journals and even photographs from the doomed expedition.

Labyrinth evokes the mystery and dread of fictional adventures like AMC’s The Terror (based on a 2007 Dan Simmons novel, inspired by an earlier far-north exploration), presenting maps of the various watery corridors that you will be required to use if you want to follow in Greely’s frozen footsteps.

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