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Synopsis

Not long after he began reading the handwritten, 820-page diary of Scottish explorer John Rae, Ken McGoogan realized that here was an astonishing story, hidden from the world for almost 150 years. McGoogan, who was originally conducting research for a novel, recognized the injustice committed against Rae. He was determined to restore the adventurer’s rightful place in history as the man who discovered not only the grisly truth about the lost Franklin expedition, but also the final link in the elusive Northwest Passage.

Fatal Passage is McGoogan’s completely absorbing account of John Rae’s incredible accomplishments and his undeserved and wholesale discreditation at the hands of polite Victorian society. After sifting through thousands of pages of research, maps and charts, and traveling to England, Scotland and the Arctic to visit the places Rae knew, McGoogan has produced a book that reads like a fast-paced novel-a smooth synthesis of adventure story, travelogue and historical biography. Fatal Passage is a richly detailed portrait of a time when the ambitions of the Empire knew no bounds.

John Rae was an adventurous young medical doctor from Orkney who signed on with the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1833. He lived in the Canadian wilds for more than two decades, becoming legendary as a hunter and snowshoer, before he turned to exploration. Famous for what was then a unique attitude-a willingness to learn from and use the knowledge and skills of aboriginal peoples-Rae became the first European to survive an Arctic winter while living solely off the land.

One of dozens of explorers and naval men commissioned by the British Admiralty to find out what became of Sir John Franklin and his two ships, Rae returned from the Arctic to report that the most glorious expedition ever launched had ended with no survivors-and worse, that it had degenerated into cannibalism. Unwilling to accept that verdict, Victorian England not only ostracized Rae, but ignored his achievements, and credited Franklin with the discovery of the Passage.

Fatal Passage is Ken McGoogan’s brilliant vindication of John Rae’s life and rightful place in history, a book for armchair adventurers, Arctic enthusiasts, lovers of Canadian history, and all those who revel in a story of physical courage and moral integrity.

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Fatal Passage
Average rating
4.6 / 5
Correcting the record
July 23rd, 2013
Perfect heat wave reading. Love the research McGoogan does into the 19th century equivalent of a comment section flame war. Absorbing exploration narrative with plenty of petty politics and vulgar human foibles. Taught me plenty I didn't know about my own country.
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