Friday, September 26, 2014

What Else Is Out There? Lives of the Explorers: Discoveries, Disasters (And What the Neighbors Thought) by Kathleen Krull

This book is about the explorers as human beings--warts, egos, and all. Some were not well-liked by their neighbors or anyone else; many were cruel. But all were bold and determined. They were men and women who took a deep breath, got up out of their chairs, and went adventuring by land, sea, or air.

One thing is certain: explorers were not like everyone else.

Who knew that Leif Ericson and his Viking sailors slept doubled up in animal hide sacks to save space on their longboats? Or that Leif had his own woodworking shop to while away the long, dark hours when he and his family were Greenland's lonely, only remaining settlers?

Who knew that the western Indians thought the unwashed Lewis and Clark explorers were too smelly to powwow with? Or that Meriwether Lewis was shot in the backside by one of his men, who somehow mistook him for an elk?

And then there was Isabella Bird, a thrill-seeking Englishwoman who loved Hawaii, did not love Australia, and who gave serious consideration to marrying a mountain man, the one-eyed Rocky Mountain Jim, who won her heart (but not her hand) when he hoisted her onto his broad shoulders to reach the summit of Pike's Peak.

And there was the amazingly staid Quaker discoverer, Captain James Cook, whose success in circumnavigating the globe was due in no small measure to his penchant for cleanliness, calisthenics for his officers, and daily servings of sauerkraut, which kept his crew free of scurvy. But who knew that this world-class mariner, who survived not one, but two round-the-world ocean voyages, succumbed on his third voyage because he had neglected to learn to swim?

Kathleen Krull's forthcoming Lives of the Explorers: Discoveries, Disasters (and What the Neighbors Thought) (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014) is her latest expedition in her remarkably readable collective biography series, What the Neighbors Thought. Not only does Krull cover the accomplishments and eccentricities of better known explorers such as Marco Polo, Daniel Boone, Henry Hudson, Richard Byrd, and Sally Ride; she also includes lesser-known luminaries of the age of discovery--Ibn Battuta, born in 1304, who traveled the known world from Gibraltar to Russia to the site of Beijing in China, Zheng He, Chinese admiral who commanded a fleet of fifty ships to establish contact with India, Arabia, and East Africa in the fourteenth century, and Matthew Hensen, African-American polar explorer who was actually the first human to set foot on the North Pole.

In short, humorous, but fact-filled vignettes, illustrated with humorous caricature portraits and clear maps by Kathryn Hewitt, Kathleen Krull brings her twenty quirky and courageous discoverers to life with choice factoids (African explorer Mary Kingsley once shared her boat cabin with four corpses the crew couldn't fit into the hold) and gossipy tidbits about how their contemporaries often viewed their behavior (Kingsley picked up swear words in several languages and took both God's and Allah's name in vain, shocking her neighbors back in England). Author Krull's historical "lives" are not your father's biography tomes, but lively accounts of those extraordinary but very human discoverers in history who brought the whole world home to us.

Appended is an extended bibliography for those young readers whose appetites for the weird and wonderful trailblazers of history are whetted by Krull's accounts.

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