The best books on the Lost Franklin Expedition

Who am I?

I have been a Franklin geek for three decades and five of my fifty published novels and non-fiction books excavate the story of the greatest disaster in Arctic history. Reading Fitzjames’ letters for my first book introduced me to a friend I would have enjoyed going for a beer with and one of the greatest thrills of my life was waking one morning in September, 2014 to learn that the wreck of Fitzjames’ ship, Erebus, had been discovered. I am still excited to live in a time when the mystery might finally be solved—perhaps Fitzjames’ original journal lies amid the water-logged timbers off the shore where so many died.

I wrote...

North with Franklin: The Lost Journals of James Fitzjames

By John Wilson,

Book cover of North with Franklin: The Lost Journals of James Fitzjames

What is my book about?

Somewhere on a barren Arctic shore in the summer of 1849, knowing he was dying, a British Naval officer wrapped his journal in sailcloth and buried it beneath a lonely pile of frost-shattered stones. He was the last of the 129 doomed men of Sir John Franklin's lost Arctic expedition. His name was James Fitzjames and for four years he had carefully recorded the expedition's achievements, hopes, and, as things began to go horribly wrong, the descent into madness and eventual death of his closest friends. This is his journal.

Based upon extensive research and Fitzjames’ actual letters, North with Franklin is a novelized reconstruction of the journal that we know Fitzjames kept, but which was lost with the doomed explorers. Through his eyes, we see the horror and tragedy that killed the entire expedition and created the greatest mystery of Arctic Exploration. A fictional companion to the ongoing archaeological work on the recently discovered wrecks of the Erebus and Terror.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Finding Franklin: The Untold Story of a 165-Year Search

Why did I love this book?

Well illustrated and written in compelling and accessible prose, Finding Franklin is a wonderful, timely introduction to the expedition and to the extraordinary hold that the mystery of its disappearance has held on the Arctic imagination for more than a century-and-a-half. Potter is a leading expert on all things Franklin and has been intimately involved in the recent remarkable discoveries around King William Island. There are few better companions at this exciting time when it seems the answers to the mystery are at our fingertips.

By Russell A. Potter,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In 2014 media around the world buzzed with news that an archaeological team from Parks Canada had located and identified the wreck of HMS Erebus, the flagship of Sir John Franklin's lost expedition to find the Northwest Passage. Finding Franklin outlines the larger story and the cast of detectives from every walk of life that led to the discovery, solving one of the Arctic's greatest mysteries. In compelling and accessible prose, Russell Potter details his decades of work alongside key figures in the era of modern searches for the expedition and elucidates how shared research and ideas have led to…

Book cover of Erebus: One Ship, Two Epic Voyages, and the Greatest Naval Mystery of All Time

Why did I love this book?

Former Monty Python stalwart and accomplished travel writer, explorer, and presenter, Michael Palin, approaches the Franklin Mystery through the biography of one of the lost ships. Not only was Erebus John Franklin’s flagship but, along with the Terror, she circumnavigated Antarctica under James Ross between 1839 and 43. Using his travel writing skills, Palin takes the reader to Tasmania, the Falkland Islands, and the Canadian Arctic to sample the landscape and conditions faced by these early explorers and, in the process, gives the doomed ship as much personality as any of her illustrious crew.

By Michael Palin,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Erebus as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLER: the remarkable true story of the exploration ship featured in The Terror

In the early years of Queen Victoria's reign, HMS Erebus undertook two of the most ambitious naval expeditions of all time.

On the first, she ventured further south than any human had ever been. On the second, she vanished with her 129-strong crew in the wastes of the Canadian Arctic, along with the HMS Terror.

Her fate remained a mystery for over 160 years.

Then, in 2014, she was found.

This is her story.
Now available: Michael Palin's North Korea Journals

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

Why did I love this book?

Whether you have read Frozen in Time or not, you have probably seen the startling photograph of John Torrington, a stoker on the Terror, whose body was preserved in the Arctic ice for 140 years. Torrington and two of his companions died early in the expedition and were buried with full honours on Beechey Island during the winter of 1845/6. In the early 1980s, Beattie a Canadian anthropologist led expeditions to exhume and autopsy the three men. The staggering state of preservation of the bodies, allowed Beattie to undertake detailed work, which included the discovery of high levels of lead in all three men. Beattie’s assertion that lead poisoning was the answer to the Franklin mystery has been questioned, but his work still fascinates after all these years.

By Owen Beattie, John Geiger,

Why should I read it?

2 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 James Fitzjames: The Mystery Man of the Franklin Expedition

Why did I love this book?

Although James Fitzjames left many letters little was known about his early childhood and family background until Battersby researched this biography. Fitzjames was a charismatic personality who won awards for bravely, led an expedition to survey a route through the Middle East and fought in China in the Opium War. He seemed destined for great things in the British Navy, but through it all he hid a dark secret about his parentage. Fitzjames’ letters are filled with humour, lively anecdotes and character sketches of his fellow officers. They inspired the novel, North with Franklin, and this book makes an entertaining companion to that work.

By William Battersby,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

James Fitzjames was a hero of the early nineteenth-century Royal Navy. A charismatic man with a wicked sense of humour, he pursued his naval career with wily determination. When he joined the Franklin Expedition at the age of 32 he thought he would make his name. But instead the expedition completely disappeared and he never returned. Its fate is one of history's last great unsolved mysteries, as were the origins and background of James Fitzjames - until now. Fitzjames packed a great deal into his thirty-two years. He had sailed an iron paddle steamer down the River Euphrates and fought…

Book cover of Unravelling the Franklin Mystery, 5: Inuit Testimony

Why did I love this book?

Few of the early searchers for Franklin appreciated the value of the stories the local Inuit told about these strangers who had come to their land and died. Fortunately, some stories were written down and preserved and these, along with still circulating tales, proved crucial in the recent discoveries of the remarkably preserved wrecks of Erebus and Terror. Woodman painstakingly scoured archives collecting stories and fragments and painting a picture of the disaster much richer than the accepted theory. Unravelling the Franklin Mystery was also a major source of information for North with Franklin as well as being a strong reminder not to unthinkingly ignore stories different from our own.

By David C. Woodman,

Why should I read it?

1 author 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.…

5 book lists we think you will like!

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