The best books about what happened to the lost Franklin Expedition

Why am I passionate about this?

I did not set out to write six books about Arctic exploration. By the mid-1990s, while working full-time as a journalist, I had published three novels. I proposed to become a celebrated novelist. But then, during a three-month stint at the University of Cambridge, I discovered Arctic explorer John Rae–and that he had been denied his rightful recognition by Charles Dickens and other leading Victorians. I researched Rae’s story, marked his greatness in the Arctic, and celebrated him in Fatal Passage. It took me two decades and five more Arctic books to solve the great mystery while also publishing ten books on other subjects. Call me a compulsive scribbler. 


I wrote...

Searching for Franklin: New Answers to the Great Arctic Mystery

By Ken McGoogan,

Book cover of Searching for Franklin: New Answers to the Great Arctic Mystery

What is my book about?

Two Arctic expeditions led by Sir John Franklin ended in disaster, the last one culminating in 129 deaths, including his own. Yet many see the Royal Navy man as a hero who sacrificed his life to discover the Northwest Passage. In Searching for Franklin, I challenge that vision–reject old orthodoxies, interweave historical narratives, and incorporate recent research. I build on the five books cited below and on three of my own: Fatal Passage, Lady Franklin’s Revenge, and Dead Reckoning. Drawing also on archival research, personal experience, and Inuit oral history, I analyze Franklin’s hubris–his English superiority complex and evangelical Christianity. I argue that his final expedition fell victim to trichinosis, which resulted from eating infected polar bear meat.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Frozen in Time: The Fate of the Franklin Expedition

Ken McGoogan Why did I love this book?

This is the classic introduction to Franklin’s 1845 expedition. On Beechey Island, Owen Beattie conducted autopsies on the bodies of the first three sailors to die. John Geiger tells the story so clearly that he opens the door to interpretations at odds with his own.

At the northern tip of King William Island, believing he had no option, Franklin turned southwest into “the continuously replenished pack-ice.” He sailed into a lethal trap, one “made all the more cruel with the realization that the route along the eastern coast of the island regularly clears during the summer.” Here, I realized that Geiger was referencing the strait John Rae discovered in 1854, which, fifty years later, Roald Amundsen would vindicate as the final link in the first navigable Northwest Passage. 

By Owen Beattie, John Geiger,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Frozen in Time as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“A remarkable piece of forensic deduction.”—Margaret Atwood 

The internationally-bestselling account of the Franklin’s doomed Arctic expedition, and the thrilling scientific investigation that spurred the decades-long hunt for its recovery—now with a new afterword on the discovery of its lost ships: Erebus and Terror.

“Chilling . . . will keep you up nights turning pages.”—The Chicago Tribune

In 1845, Sir John Franklin and his men set out to “penetrate the icy fastness of the north, and to circumnavigate America.” And then they disappeared. The truth about what happened to Franklin’s ill-fated Arctic expedition was shrouded in mystery for more than a…


Book cover of Portrait of Jane: A Life of Lady Franklin

Ken McGoogan Why did I love this book?

“John Franklin is not an immediately attractive figure.” So writes Frances J. Woodward in her clear-eyed 1951 biography of Jane, Lady Franklin–a work especially valuable for its bracing portrayal of her husband. Jane was “exceptionally gifted,” but portraits of Franklin “are of a solid, almost bovine, sailorman.” He thought in platitudes, wrote “tedious prose,” and despite experience, retained “a narrowness of mind.” Bidding to be fair, Woodward notes that Franklin was sensitive and loved children, “and his goodness and piety were as substantial as his physique.”

By glossing over Lady Franklin’s secret ramblings with a serenading missionary and failing fully to appreciate her subject’s contributions to Arctic geography, Woodward left the door open to a more comprehensive biography–yet another reason I love this pioneering work. 

By Frances J. Woodward,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Portrait of Jane as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Shipped from UK, please allow 10 to 21 business days for arrival. 382pp. Black and white illustrated. Wear to extremities, corners bumped. Good clean sound copy.


Book cover of Unravelling the Franklin Mystery 5: Inuit Testimony

Ken McGoogan Why did I love this book?

First published in 1991, this book draws on Inuit oral history to challenge the “standard reconstruction” of how the Franklin expedition played out, presenting a more complex narrative. A master mariner, Woodman not only repeatedly searched King William Island for relics and bones but was the first to do an in-depth analysis of the unpublished Inuit testimony gathered by Charles Francis Hall with the help of Tookoolito. 

Woodman deduced that after the abandonment, some of Franklin’s men returned to the ice-locked vessels. Intensely focused and detailed, this book speaks to aspiring experts–and, for me, drew attention to the need for a broad, accessible survey of Arctic exploration highlighting the Indigenous contribution.  

By David C. Woodman,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Unravelling the Franklin Mystery 5 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

David Woodman's classic reconstruction of the mysterious events surrounding the tragic Franklin expedition has taken on new importance in light of the recent discovery of the HMS Erebus wreck, the ship Sir John Franklin sailed on during his doomed 1845 quest to find the Northwest Passage to Asia. First published in 1991, Unravelling the Franklin Mystery boldly challenged standard interpretations and offered a new and compelling alternative. Among the many who have tried to discover the truth behind the Franklin disaster, Woodman was the first to recognize the profound importance of Inuit oral testimony and to analyze it in depth.…


Book cover of May We Be Spared to Meet on Earth: Letters of the Lost Franklin Arctic Expedition

Ken McGoogan Why did I love this book?

This collection of letters is part of the canon. First, it brings the men of the final Franklin expedition to life. We hear them coming and going, speaking to their contemporaries as if in private. We marvel at the extent of John Franklin’s religiosity and his sense of having a Christian mission. And at last, we understand his refusal, during his first overland expedition, to turn back before it was too late. Instead, he stood waiting for a miracle, convinced that any minute now, Edward Parry would arrive in a Royal Navy ship.

What’s more, in his succinct introduction, editor Russell Potter dismisses theories that the final Franklin disaster was caused by lead poisoning or botulism, clearing the way for the truth of trichinosis. 

By Russell A. Potter (editor), Regina Koellner (editor), Peter Carney (editor) , Mary Williamson (editor)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked May We Be Spared to Meet on Earth as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

May We Be Spared to Meet on Earth is a privileged glimpse into the private correspondence of the officers and sailors who set out in May 1845 on the Erebus and Terror for Sir John Franklin's fateful expedition to the Arctic.

The letters of the crew and their correspondents begin with the journey's inception and early planning, going on to recount the ships' departure from the river Thames, their progress up the eastern coast of Great Britain to Stromness in Orkney, and the crew's exploits as far as the Whalefish Islands off the western coast of Greenland, from where the…


Book cover of The Journal of Jens Munk 1619-1620

Ken McGoogan Why did I love this book?

By April 1848, 24 men of the Franklin expedition had died–37 percent of officers and 14 percent of crewmen. Why were some dying onshore in a large hospital tent? What galvanized the remaining 105 to abandon the ships? Flashback to 1619, when at Churchill, the Danish explorer Jens Munk lost 61 of 64 men to a “rare and extraordinary” disease. Munk’s journal gave rise to a 1973 article by historian Delbert Young, who argued that those men died of trichinosis after eating infected polar bear meat.

It pointed to the 1897 Andree expedition, whose principals died of the same disease, according to a doctor who studied physical evidence. The journal leads, finally, to what I see as the root cause of the Franklin catastrophe: trichinosis.

By W.A. Kenyon,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Journal of Jens Munk 1619-1620 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Octavo, PP.40


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By Gabrielle Robinson,

Book cover of Api's Berlin Diaries: My Quest to Understand My Grandfather's Nazi Past

Gabrielle Robinson Author Of Api's Berlin Diaries: My Quest to Understand My Grandfather's Nazi Past

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Retired english professor

Gabrielle's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Gabrielle found her grandfather’s diaries after her mother’s death, only to discover that he had been a Nazi. Born in Berlin in 1942, she and her mother fled the city in 1945, but Api, the one surviving male member of her family, stayed behind to work as a doctor in a city 90% destroyed.

Gabrielle retraces Api’s steps in the Berlin of the 21st century, torn between her love for the man who gave her the happiest years of her childhood and trying to come to terms with his Nazi membership, German guilt, and political responsibility.

Api's Berlin Diaries: My Quest to Understand My Grandfather's Nazi Past

By Gabrielle Robinson,

What is this book about?

"This is not a book I will forget any time soon."
Story Circle Book Reviews

Moving and provocative, Api's Berlin Diaries offers a personal perspective on the fall of Berlin 1945 and the far-reaching aftershocks of the Third Reich.

After her mother's death, Robinson was thrilled to find her beloved grandfather's war diaries-only to discover that he had been a Nazi.

The award-winning memoir shows Api, a doctor in Berlin, desperately trying to help the wounded in cellars without water or light. He himself was reduced to anxiety and despair, the daily diary his main refuge. As Robinson retraces Api's…


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