The most recommended books about the Northwest Passage

Who picked these books? Meet our 13 experts.

13 authors created a book list connected to the Northwest Passage, and here are their favorite Northwest Passage books.
Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

What type of Northwest Passage book?

Loading...

Book cover of Northwest Passage

Norman Gilliland Author Of Sand Mansions

From my list on dropping you into another time and place.

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up in Gainesville, Florida, and read every history of the area I could get my hands on, all the while imagining who lived there and what their lives were like. I got three degrees from the University of Florida and applied the skills learned there to Sand Mansions. The novel covers the years 1876 to 1905, a time in which a get-rich-quick frontier mentality slowly gave way to a more stable approach to community building. Sand Mansions won a prize for Best Adult Fiction from the Florida Authors and Publishers Association.

Norman's book list on dropping you into another time and place

Norman Gilliland Why did Norman love this book?

When I was 11 years old, there was a TV show called Northwest Passage, which was an eye-opener for me because it took place at a time when the American frontier was somewhere in New York State. At the end of each episode the image of a book appeared, and I pestered my parents to get me a copy. A few days before my birthday, I caught sight of the book in a bag on my dad’s dresser. I was thrilled. I loved the adventures of Rogers’ Rangers as they fought their way through an endless forest during the French and Indian War and searched for the fabled shortcut to the Orient. In school, my book report on Northwest Passage was so long and enthusiastic that the teacher called time on me.

By Kenneth Roberts,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This classic novel follows the career of Major Rogers, whose incredible exploits during the French and Indian Wars are told through Langdon Towne, an artist and Harvard student who flees trouble to join the army.


Book cover of She Captains: Heroines and Hellions of the Sea

Darlene Marshall Author Of Sea Change

From my list on women at sea through history (including some pirates).

Why am I passionate about this?

I picked these books because I love telling stories about bold women, and pirates float my boat. Being able to incorporate so much of history into my seafaring women, making them real and believable, makes writing that much more enjoyable. When I can incorporate real historical tidbits into my work it’s a good writing day, and I wanted to share my favorite research books with other readers. 

Darlene's book list on women at sea through history (including some pirates)

Darlene Marshall Why did Darlene love this book?

Joan Druett is the dean of authors writing about women at sea. Her books bring to life not only the pirates and transgressive women, but the wives and daughters of sea captains who sailed alongside their men and shared the ship’s command and the global adventures. When I want good, historical data I turn to Druett and the tidbits she incorporates into her writing bring dry historical figures to life.

By Joan Druett, Ron Druett (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked She Captains as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In an innovative look at maritime history from the female perspective, Joan Druett introduces a remarkable array of characters and re-creates their adventures with a captivating immediacy and wit. There are 'pirate queens' armed with cutlasses and pistols who strike fear into the hearts of sailors. There are sea-loving women and women eager to be with the men they loved, who dress as men and join unsuspecting crews where they serve with honour and daring. The brave housekeepers and rescue workers are here too - including twenty year old Grace Darling, whose rescue of nine castaways in 1838 inspired a…


Book cover of The Last Viking: The Life of Roald Amundsen

Buddy Levy Author Of Empire of Ice and Stone: The Disastrous and Heroic Voyage of the Karluk

From my list on polar exploration, expeditions, and survival.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have been passionate about Polar exploration since I was a boy. My father was a Nordic Olympic skier who introduced me to the exploits of Norwegian and Scandinavian explorers when I was very young. Later, I traveled to Greenland in 2003 and was blown away by the remoteness, the dramatic ice and mountains, and the incredible toughness of the people who have explored the regions and carved out life there.

Buddy's book list on polar exploration, expeditions, and survival

Buddy Levy Why did Buddy love this book?

I love a great cradle-to-grave biography, and gives the life story of Roald Amundsen, in my opinion, the greatest Polar explorer in history. I gained so much insight into the man who was driven to explore the most extreme places on earth, the Polar regions.

I relished the deep insights into Amundsen’s character and personality, which helped me better understand one of the more misunderstood figures in exploration history.

By Stephen Bown,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Last Viking as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Last Viking unravels the life of the man who stands head and shoulders above all those who raced to map the last corners of the world. In 1900, the four great geographical mysteries- the Northwest Passage, the Northeast Passage, the South Pole, and the North Pole- remained blank spots on the globe. Within twenty years Roald Amundsen would claim all four prizes. Renowned for his determination and technical skills, both feared and beloved by his men, Amundsen is a legend of the heroic age of exploration, which shortly thereafter would be tamed by technology, commerce, and publicity. Feted in…


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

Ken McGoogan Author Of Searching for Franklin: New Answers to the Great Arctic Mystery

From my list on 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. 

Ken's book list on lost Franklin Expedition

Ken McGoogan Why did Ken 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 A Land So Wild

Samantha SoRelle Author Of The Gentleman's Gentleman

From my list on gay historical romances you haven’t read yet.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been writing queer historical romances/murder mysteries since the third grade when I accidentally wrote a pretty homoerotic Sherlock Holmes fanfiction despite being too young to know what any of those words meant. I’m now both a writer and reader of the genre and while I’m delighted that so many other people love gay historical romance as much as I do, I feel like I always see the same few books recommended. I wanted to share some of my lesser-known favorites so that they can get the love they richly deserve and so that there are more people who can geek-out about them with me!

Samantha's book list on gay historical romances you haven’t read yet

Samantha SoRelle Why did Samantha love this book?

Imagine The Terror but with more gay romance and fewer allegorical monsters. I’m a huge polar exploration nerd, and this is one of the best polar novels I’ve read and one of the best queer historical romance novels as well.

It’s an incredibly well-researched beautiful love story that unfolds via letters and ship’s logs. The fact that so few people have heard of this gem of a book is mind-boggling. 

By Elyssa Warkentin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Land So Wild as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1845, the HMS Vanguard, under the command of Captain William Caulderson, departed England on a voyage of discovery to find a Northwest Passage through the perilous arctic waters separating the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. It was never heard from again.

Five years later, Captain David Maxwell of the Serapis sets sail to attempt to recover the Vanguard and determine the fate of his former commander.

Naturalist Embleton Hall is running from demons of his own. He doesn’t expect to find himself drawn to Captain Maxwell--but the two men form a bond that will become essential to their survival.

Together,…


Book cover of The Breathing Hole

Nina Munteanu Author Of A Diary in the Age of Water

From my list on eco-fiction that make you care and give you hope.

Why am I passionate about this?

The environment and how we treat it has always been important to me since I was a child. My passion for storytelling morphed into writing, but the underlying spark came through environmental activism. I got a university degree in aquatic ecology, published numerous papers, and now write eco-fiction that is grounded in accurate science with a focus on human ingenuity and compassion. The most meaningful and satisfying eco-fiction is ultimately optimistic literature that explores serious issues with heroic triumph. Each of these favourites intimately connects human to environment. Each moved me to cry, think, and deeply care. 

Nina's book list on eco-fiction that make you care and give you hope

Nina Munteanu Why did Nina love this book?

What struck me most was the use of simple language to portray powerful intimacy and connection between human and animal, and by extension, environment. Murphy’s humorous dialogue, together with sparing, often ironic, descriptions, struck deep into my heart. The play starts in 1535 on an ice shelf up north—when an Inuk widow risks her life to save a lost one-eared polar bear cub on an ice floe, and adopts him. In the last scene five hundred years later in the oily waters of the Northwest Passage, the same bear—starving and cruelly injured by eco-tourists on a cruise ship—struggles to keep from drowning. No one on the ship cares. No one weeps for him. But I did. I wept for him and for his world destroyed by apathy. 

By Colleen Murphy, Siobhan Arnatsiaq-Murphy, Janet Tamalik McGrath (translator)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Breathing Hole as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1535, Hummiktuq, an Inuit widow, has a strange dream about the future. The next day, she discovers a bear cub floating on a piece of ice near a breathing hole. Despite the concerns of her community, she adopts him as her own and names him Angu’řuaq. In 1845, Angu’řuaq and his mate Panik wander into a chance meeting between Inuit hunters and explorers from the Franklin Expedition. By 2029, when surveyors and entrepreneurs examine the now-melting land for future opportunities, Angu’řuaq encounters the passengers and crew of a luxury cruise ship as it slinks through the oily waters of…


Book cover of Unravelling the Franklin Mystery 5: Inuit Testimony

Ken McGoogan Author Of Searching for Franklin: New Answers to the Great Arctic Mystery

From my list on 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. 

Ken's book list on lost Franklin Expedition

Ken McGoogan Why did Ken 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 Fatal Passage: The Story of John Rae, the Arctic Hero Time Forgot

Alastair Scott Author Of Tracks Across Alaska

From my list on the Far North.

Why am I passionate about this?

For five years I hitchhiked round the world, for the most part in a kilt. I cycled 5000 miles behind the Iron Curtain before it fell and took a dog team across Alaska. I’ve sailed solo round Ireland and endured storms off Greenland. Currently, I’m cycling in stages from North Cape to Cape Town.  Unconventional travel has been a part of my life for forty years.  As a writer I try to inform and entertain, and my eye is drawn to quirky detail and humour.  I’m inspired by wild places and the people who live in them:  their customs and intrinsic wisdom.  In particular I’m fascinated by the Far North and have travelled extensively throughout this region.

Alastair's book list on the Far North

Alastair Scott Why did Alastair love this book?

Scotsman John Rae was the greatest explorer of the Canadian Arctic that ever lived. Yet he was vilified in the press, his reputation sullied. For ten years he was denied the £10,000 reward that was rightfully his for discovering the fate of the Franklin expedition and the knighthood awarded to lesser achievers was cruelly withheld. Why?  Because he ‘went native’ and adopted Inuit survival techniques considered ‘uncivilised’ in Victorian Britain - but above all because he discovered, and had the temerity to announce, that the Franklin survivors had resorted to cannibalism. This book is an enthralling account of Rae’s life. I had actually set out to write a biography myself, unable to believe that such a story had not been written up, when McGoogan’s book appeared. I have nothing but reverence for his work, and imagine ‘Sir’ John Rae as I believe he will one day be, would be equally…

By Ken McGoogan,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

John Rae's accomplishments, surpassing all nineteenth-century Arctic explorers, were worthy of honors and international fame. No explorer even approached Rae's prolific record: 1,776 miles surveyed of uncharted territory; 6,555 miles hiked on snowshoes; and 6,700 miles navigated in small boats. Yet, he was denied fair recognition of his discoveries because he dared to utter the truth about the fate of Sir John Franklin and his crew, Rae's predecessors in the far north. Author Ken McGoogan vividly narrates the astonishing adventures of Rae, who found the last link to the Northwest Passage and uncovered the grisly truth about the cannibalism of…


Book cover of Snow Man: John Hornby in the Barren Lands

Lawrence Millman Author Of At the End of the World: A True Story of Murder in the Arctic

From my list on the North.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve had a passion for northern places ever since I was a kid. I prefer locales that boast plenty of nature and not very many human beings. I’ve been to Greenland 15 times, but only once to Paris and never to Rome (Rome in New York State once). The more remote the locale, the better. Which is why I’ve only once been to Nuuk, Greenland’s capital, but several times to almost never visited villages in East Greenland.

Lawrence's book list on the North

Lawrence Millman Why did Lawrence love this book?

Snow Man offers a portrait of John Hornby, an Arctic adventurer who had no interest in being the first person to visit the North Pole or traverse the Northwest Passage, but who simply wanted to hang out in the Arctic in order to experience both hardships and delight. The book’s story deals with Hornby’s overwintering in an esker in the Central Canadian Arctic with a total novice, an Englishman named Critchell-Bullock. This 1931 book had been neglected, so I got it back into print and I wrote an introduction to it.

By Malcolm Waldron,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Describes the year spent by Englishmen John Hornby and James Critchell-Bullock in the Barren Lands of Canada's Northwest Territories in 1924


Book cover of The Arctic Grail: The Quest for the Northwest Passage and The North Pole, 1818-1909

Alastair Scott Author Of Tracks Across Alaska

From my list on the Far North.

Why am I passionate about this?

For five years I hitchhiked round the world, for the most part in a kilt. I cycled 5000 miles behind the Iron Curtain before it fell and took a dog team across Alaska. I’ve sailed solo round Ireland and endured storms off Greenland. Currently, I’m cycling in stages from North Cape to Cape Town.  Unconventional travel has been a part of my life for forty years.  As a writer I try to inform and entertain, and my eye is drawn to quirky detail and humour.  I’m inspired by wild places and the people who live in them:  their customs and intrinsic wisdom.  In particular I’m fascinated by the Far North and have travelled extensively throughout this region.

Alastair's book list on the Far North

Alastair Scott Why did Alastair love this book?

In the 19th century, it was believed that if a way could be found through North America’s ice barrier, beyond lay an open sea offering ships a shortcut to the Pacific.  The quest to find it became a litany of disaster, suffering, human spirit stretched to breaking point and heroic survival. Canada’s greatest historian, Pierre Burton, turns factual accounts into a riveting read, ‘a cliff-hanger with colorful characters’ as Newsweek described it. This is another book I hate to lend for fear I’ll never get it back.

By Pierre Berton,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Arctic Grail as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The complete saga of the pursuit for two of the world's greates geographical prizes - the elusive Passage linking the Atlantic, the Pacific, and the North Pole. Culled from extensive research of hand-written diaries and private journal The Arctic Grail is the definitive book on the age of arctic exploration and adventure.