In “Labyrinth of Ice,” a recent account of Greely’s northward trek, Washington State University associate professor of English Buddy Levy, noted for bringing a fine novelist’s sense of storytelling to his narrative histories, tells this difficult but fascinating story with a compassion and vividness often lacking in works of this nature. In the doing, he adds another essential volume to what has become an onslaught of recent literature concerning the far north.
It’s here, a little more than a hundred pages into this book, that Levy’s remarkable skills as a writer, already evident earlier in the book, fully bloom. In page after agonizing page, he details the daily lives of the men as darkness and hunger overtook them. Up until digging in for the winter, they had beaten the odds of 19th century polar exploration; they were all still alive. This would not last.
Levy demonstrates deep compassion for all the men throughout, even those who did bad things under horrible circumstances. He could have been perhaps more critical of some, but he makes up for it with his genuine empathy.