Rivalry in the polar skies

I have an interest in polar and similar exploration – read my review of Erebus here and of Cold Burial here both of which tell stories of this type of activity. When both poles were reached on foot and there seemed few other challenges for the explorer the attention turned to the air. With aeroplanes as a very new invention and the desire for adventure still present the 1920s were a time of exploration by air and especially a desire to fly over the poles. In Wings of Ice Jeff Maynard tells the story of the early adventurers who sought to make their name in this way.

Roald Amundsen was one of them – having reached both poles by land he wanted to fly there too. His rivals at the time were less well known – Richard Byrd and Hubert Wilkins. The race between them to be the first to fly over the poles was supported by public subscription and patronage and was featured in all the newspapers. The rivalry was intense because there was considerable publicity and money to be gained by success so the aviators took risks and massaged the truth from time to time to get ahead.

When Richard Byrd died in the 1950s his story of being the first to reach the North Pole was challenged and he was accused of being at the least mistaken but at the most a fraud and liar. His wife refused access to his records and the controversy about his flight has continued to the present day.

The author examines the claims of the various parties and suggests an explanation for what may have happened in Byrd’s trip to the pole. He tells the story of the rivalry between the three and follows their lives and careers. He is honest about their characters and activities and exactly why this feat was so important to each of them. This is an easily readable account which I very much enjoyed

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