Book addresses a 'polarizing' debate
Montgomery College librarian examines lives of two explorers
By KAREN GARDNER
The (Frederick) News-Post
MONROVIA - Robert Bryce doesn't think he has
accomplishment of Admiral Robert E. Peary, long recognized as the first
explorer to reach the North Pole.
"Geographers have been edging away from Peary's claim
Bryce said, while another explorer, Dr. Frederick A. Cook, has gotten
attention from historians.
But Bryce's book, "Cook & Peary: The Polar
examines the claims of both early 20th-century explorers and comes to
almost-unheard of conclusion that neither man made it to the pole.
Bryce, 50, is a librarian at Montgomery College who
with his wife and two sons. His book on Cook and Peary is his first.
To finish it, he worked late evenings and weekends over
eight years and took a five-month sabbatical.
Then to his surprise, Stackpole Books, a historical
in Pennsylvania, bought the book. Since its publication, it has already
received notice in major newspapers, including the New York Times and
Bryce wrote "Cook & Peary" using a voluminous
and eyewitness accounts of Cook's and Peary's separate 1908 and 1909
to reach the poles. In 1,000-plus pages, Bryce examines the goals and
of the two men, and probes the inner forces that drove each.
"Cook & Peary" got its start when Bryce read a
about the polar
explorations. He became fascinated with explorers, whose tales stood in
contrast to his own bookish life.
The book, "Weird and Tragic Shores," by Chauncey Loomis,
death of Arctic explorer Charles Francis Hall.
"It made me depressed, but fascinated," he said. "This
He wanted to delve into the dreamer qualities of Cook
Explorers, like athletes, are usually not seeking
Rather, they're seeking to surpass a barrier that often exists only in
the mind, Bryce said.
"Peary wanted world fame and was casting about for this
of life led him to Greenland," Bryce said. "He saw himself as the hero
in a great saga by being able to vanquish nature to show one man could
Cook wanted to prove himself superior to his peers by
no one else had ever done, Bryce said.
"He saw it as a spiritual and physical test," he said.
great self confidence that he could do things others couldn't do."
Peary and Cook met on Peary's first expedition to
hired Cook as his surgeon. After that, their lives were inextricably
After the polar expeditions, they spent much of their lives trying to
Bryce has no illusions his book will settle the matter.
To the public, Cook seemed an honest person, until Peary
him. But a tiny minority kept up a belief in Cook, and that belief
to this day.
A member of the Cook Society was recently quoted in the
saying the Society doubts Bryce's conclusion.
"It tells you something about the way people deal with
and how we interact with life," Bryce said. "Truth is very elusive.
found there's nothing that is absolute truth."