Disaster at the Pole: The Tragedy of the Airship Italia and the 1921 Nobile Expedition to the North Pole

Wilbur Cross, Author
Wilbur Cross, Author Lyons Press $24.95 (340p) ISBN 978-1-58574-049-9
Paperback - 326 pages - 978-1-58574-496-1
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This is an intriguing, at times even heart-stopping, account of an almost-forgotten aviation disaster: a race to fly a dirigible to the North Pole, land the airship and then return to civilization. Led by Umberto Nobile, the Italian aeronautic engineer and airship designer who had crossed the North Pole in a dirigible just two years earlier, the crew of the airship Italia suddenly crashed and was stranded in the frozen north as an international team of rescuers tried, initially unsuccessfully, to save the few survivors. Cross, a former editor at Life magazine, spent more than 30 years researching the crash and its aftermath (interviewing the few living survivors, including Nobile, who had kept copious records, even while fighting against starvation at the North Pole); however, the detail never overwhelms an exciting, well-wrought story. What makes this work stand out among other tales of harrowing heroism is its political intrigue and Cross's deft handling of this added complexity. His presentation of Nobile's overtly unwilling participation in the Fascist reign of Benito Mussolini, as well as the power struggles among the Fascisti for control of what was seen as the next great aviation powerhouse, adds a sad depth and pertinent humanity to Nobile's personal and professional ordeal. His ""very real human flaws were greatly accentuated by the circumstances"" of living in Italy during the 1920s and 1930s. (Oct.)
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