cover image Tales of Endurance and Exploration

Tales of Endurance and Exploration

, . . Atlantic Monthly, $26 (518pp) ISBN 978-0-87113-899-6

No activity embraces risk like exploration. Success means glory and wealth; failure most likely entails an undocumented demise thousands of miles from home. This sturdy work recounts the memorable circumstances of history's greatest journeys of discovery. Former Time-Life Books editor Fleming (Killing Dragons ) has mastered the craft of imparting huge swaths of information in an accessible way. Thematically(and sensibly) divided into three sections covering "Reconnaissance," "Inquiry" and "Endeavour," the book's 45 accounts lie at the intersection of individual obsessiveness and collective, often imperial, ambition. Whether elaborating on von Humboldt's accidental exploitation of guano (bird manure fertilizer), Henry Hudson's encounter with a mermaid or the French search for a Saharan field of emeralds, Fleming's writing is informative and vivid, never stinting on such basic human drives as greed, glory and geopolitical domination. As the book inexorably moves from 1271 (Marco Polo) to 1928 (Umberto Mobile, pioneering North Pole pilot), the narratives inevitably shift from such weighty matters as the modern European explorations of China, North America, India and Brazil to geographical poles and inaccessible peaks. Almost comprehensive enough to serve as a reference, this densely packed tome supplies a bewildering wealth of information about some of humanity's most compelling adventures. B&w photos, maps. Agent, Susan Howe. (Sept.)