When Captain John Buddington of New London, Conn., set out on a whaling expedition in September 1855, he discovered the HMS Resolute, a British navy ship without a soul on board. How the Resolute made it from its British home port to Arctic Sea whaling territory to a central place in the White House's Oval Office makes up the core of this gripping historical adventure. Describing the explorers who set out to conquer the Arctic ""Otherworld"" as the ""astronauts of their day,"" Pulitzer nominee Sandler creates a taut, absorbing story and a multi-faceted portrait of heroism that encompasses the overwhelming missteps, hardships and almost irrational tenacity that sprung from British naval secretary John Barrow's decision that Britain would discover the fabled Northwest Passage around the new world-a task he believed would take no longer than ""a single season."" That decision would be followed by 40 years of failed search-and-rescue missions-of which the Resolute was just one-after the initial 1845 voyage, led by Captain John Franklin, disappeared. The discovery of the Resolute represented both a vital clue in Franklin's disappearance and a haunting symbol of its nation's inexhaustible determination to make navigating the passage a uniquely British triumph. Sandler eloquently illustrates how the expedition became a new quest for the Holy Grail and provides an adventure story worthy of that tradition. 20 photos, 30 b/w illustrations.