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Fatal Passage

The Untold Story of John Rae, the Artic Explorer Who Discovered the Fate of Franklin

by Ken McGoogan

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list price: $11.99
also available: Hardcover Paperback
category: Travel
published: 2010

Not long after he began reading the handwritten, 820-page diary of Scottish explorer John Rae, Ken McGoogan realized that here was an astonishing story, hidden from the world for almost 150 years. McGoogan, who was originally conducting research for a novel, recognized the injustice committed against Rae. He was determined to restore the adventurer’s rightful place in history as the man who discovered not only the grisly truth about the lost Franklin expedition, but also the final link in the elusive Northwest Passage.

Fatal Passage is McGoogan’s completely absorbing account of John Rae’s incredible accomplishments and his undeserved and wholesale discreditation at the hands of polite Victorian society. After sifting through thousands of pages of research, maps and charts, and traveling to England, Scotland and the Arctic to visit the places Rae knew, McGoogan has produced a book that reads like a fast-paced novel—a smooth synthesis of adventure story, travelogue and historical biography. Fatal Passage is a richly detailed portrait of a time when the ambitions of the Empire knew no bounds.

John Rae was an adventurous young medical doctor from Orkney who signed on with the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1833. He lived in the Canadian wilds for more than two decades, becoming legendary as a hunter and snowshoer, before he turned to exploration. Famous for what was then a unique attitude—a willingness to learn from and use the knowledge and skills of aboriginal peoples—Rae became the first European to survive an Arctic winter while living solely off the land.

One of dozens of explorers and naval men commissioned by the British Admiralty to find out what became of Sir John Franklin and his two ships, Rae returned from the Arctic to report that the most glorious expedition ever launched had ended with no survivors—and worse, that it had degenerated into cannibalism. Unwilling to accept that verdict, Victorian England not only ostracized Rae, but ignored his achievements, and credited Franklin with the discovery of the Passage.

Fatal Passage is Ken McGoogan’s brilliant vindication of John Rae’s life and rightful place in history, a book for armchair adventurers, Arctic enthusiasts, lovers of Canadian history, and all those who revel in a story of physical courage and moral integrity.

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About the Author

Ken McGoogan

KEN MCGOOGAN has published more than a dozen books, among them Fatal Passage, How the Scots Invented Canada, Lady Franklin’s Revenge, Celtic Lightning and Dead Reckoning: The Untold Story of the Northwest Passage. He has won the Pierre Berton Award for History, the UBC Medal for Canadian Biography, the Drainie-Taylor Biography Prize and the Christopher Award for “a work of artistic excellence that affirms the highest values of the human spirit.” McGoogan has worked as a journalist at major dailies in Toronto, Montreal and Calgary. He sails with Adventure Canada, teaches creative non-fiction in the MFA program at the University of King’s College in Halifax, and lives in Toronto with his artist-photographer wife, Sheena Fraser McGoogan.

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