This Week's Book Review - Battle of Ink and Ice

Battle of Ink and Ice
Looking for a good read? Here is a recommendation. I have an unusual approach to reviewing books. I review books I feel merit a review. Each review is an opportunity to recommend a book. If I do not think a book is worth reading, I find another book to review. You do not have to agree with everything every author has written (I do not), but the fiction I review is entertaining (and often thought-provoking) and the non-fiction contain ideas worth reading.

Book Review

Exploring the Arctic for Fame and Headlines

Reviewed by Mark Lardas
October 29, 2023

“Battle of Ink and Ice: A Sensational Story of News Barons, North Pole Explorers, and the Making of Modern Media,” by Darrell Hartman Viking, June, 2023, 400 pages, $30.00 (Hardcover), $14.99 (Ebook), $19.99 (Audiobook)

Before reality television, people satisfied the urge to see new places and do new things by reading about the exploits of risk-takers, including explorers. Before the internet or radio, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the way to do that was through the newspaper.

Back then, the modern mass-market daily newspaper was still new.

In “Battle of Ink and Ice: A Sensational Story of News Barons, North Pole Explorers, and the Making of Modern Media,” Darrell Hartman threads together two themes: the rivalry between New York City’s major newspapers and polar exploration.

The first thread tells of the 19th-century emergence of the modern newspaper, in New York City. In 1835, James Gordon Bennett Sr. founded The New York Herald, the first paper that focused on news independent of political parties, the New York elite, or advertisers. It made Bennett one of the wealthiest men of the day and, simultaneously, the most hated (except for his readers) man in New York. Early parts of the book detail these New York newspaper battles.

In 1868, his son, James Gordon Bennett Jr. took the reins at the Herald. He doubled down on news coverage, setting up foreign bureaus and using the then-new trans-Atlantic cable to bring European news to New York overnight.

He also began using the newspaper to create news, hiring Henry Morton Stanley to track down explorer David Livingstone in Africa. This ignited a trend among newspapers of funding exploration expeditions.

Polar exploration forms its second thread. By the 1890s, only the Arctic remained unexplored. Frederick Cook and Robert Peary were chief among the Arctic explorers. They became bitter rivals, with both claiming to have been the first to reach the North Pole. Both proved deceptive. The fame and fortune associated with exploration led both to report altered claims and observations. Neither reached the pole. A publicity brawl broke out, with partisans of the populist-preferred Cook and the patrician-favored Peary battling over claims.

Among the competing newspapers were the Herald—a Cook adherent—and The New York Times, which had recently been purchased by Adolph Ochs, who supported Peary. The Herald and the Times were fighting for New York’s “quality” readership. The question of who was first to the pole became a surrogate for the issue of newspaper credibility.

“Battle of Ink and Ice” is a delightful book and a story of publishing and scientific rivalry. Hartman’s book is entertaining and informative.

Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, historian, and model-maker, lives in League City, TX. His website is This review appeared in a different form in American Essence magazine and Epoch Times.


Another readable book on the same general topic is Hampton Sides “In the Kingdom of Ice”, ISBN 978-0-385-53537-3, 451 pages (2014).

It is hard to realize that as late as the 1870s, there was debate about the possible existence of an undiscovered ice-free continent at the North Pole. With the inevitable involvement of James Gordon Bennett, Captain De Long was dispatched on a US naval expedition to reach the North Pole. The expedition was a tragic failure, with the survivors eventually being rescued by the Russians – an engrossing tale, well told.