Voyages of Delusion: The Search for the North West Passage in the Age of Reason

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9780006532132: Voyages of Delusion: The Search for the North West Passage in the Age of Reason

Voyages of Delusion in the Age of Reason: Williams's book charts the 18th-century's perilous and often fatal attempts to discover a passage through the Arctic to the Pacific. An astounding work of the history of arctic exploration.Glyn Williams's Prize of All the Oceans was reviewed by Patrick O'Brian: `A remarkably erudite and deeply informed book'. And by Andrew Roberts as `Staggeringly good... the best book I've read in ages.'The Quest for the North-West Passage should be as big a best-seller as Fergus Fleming's Barrow's Boys-which was about the quest for the north-west passage in the 19th century.Williams's book is set in the heat of 18th century exploration fever and charts the many perilous expeditions undertaken to find the `maritime philosopher's stone' from amongst the ice and eskimos of Hudson Bay. Fuelled by the promise of fame and riches from revitalised British trade and dominance of the North American continent, the search for this illusory passage even captivated Cook-the most pragmatic of explorers.Williams examines successive expeditions from James Knight to George Vancouver. The secretive Hudson's Bay Company plays a supporting role throughout, as does Sir Arthur Dobbs whose political ambition-and obsessive pursuit of the illusory passage-relied heavily on exploitative cunning, personal greed and putting other's lives at risk.The book is based on extensive archival research and archaeological excavations which fuel the content of the book, rich in political and personal intrigue. Written with the narrative brilliance and the mastery of form which characterises The Prize of all the Oceans, this book promises to be both a work of historical excellence and a compelling story of daring adventure, survival and endurance at sea.

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About the Author:

Glyn Williams has been Professor of History at Queen Mary and Westfield College since 1974. His main teaching interests are the history of exploration, the history of Europe overseas, and British imperial history. He has travelled and lectured in Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand and the West Indies. He is Emeritus Professor of the University of London. He lives in Kent.

From Publishers Weekly:

Although the 18th century was the "age of reason," wishful thinking may better characterize the spirit of the era's adventurers' pursuit of the chimerical Northwest Passage (a sea route from North America's northeast coast through to the Pacific, which had already been a goal of explorers for 200 years). The advantages of such a route-cheaper access to the China trade, the opening of exploration in western North America and national glory-were so enticing, entrepreneurs convinced themselves they could hardly lose by sending out a mission. As University of London history professor Williams painstakingly documents, politicians and financiers eagerly talked themselves into pseudoscientific "proofs" that such a passage must exist, based on the direction of tides, the sighting of whales in inland waters and other factors. More "evidence" could be mustered from hoax voyage journals and conjectural mappings by cartographers willing to treat geography as a speculative art. Williams juxtaposes these wealth and fame seekers with the poor captains and crews of these ill-fated expeditions. Stranded in ice-bound refuges for long winters, they lost body parts from frostbite, died from scurvy or accidents-or if they made it back to Europe, often found themselves the objects of derision (or worse, court-martial) for not having found the passage their sponsors were sure existed. Readers know in advance the passage wasn't discovered then, but the addition of money-hungry patrons to the equation makes it more excruciating than a saga like Shackleton's Antarctic expedition. Williams may be too scholarly for general readers, but students of maritime exploration and 18th-century British politics will find this work engrossing, especially the detailed notes on sources. Illus.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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