Society for the History of Discoveries

Delgado, James P. Across the Top of the World: The Quest for the Northwest Passage. New York: Checkmark Books, 1999. xii, 228 p. ISBN 0816041245.

Many members of the Society will remember our visit to the Vancouver Maritime Museum in Vancouver, Canada, for our annual meeting. The great star of this Museum is no doubt the St. Roch, which also plays a central role in Delgado’s book. It is not a work of original research, but deserves to be noticed in these pages because of the way in which it draws together work on the history of the passage, and illustrates it with often novel and remarkably relevant maps and plates.
In eight chapters, Delgado takes us from the time when the British were furiously trying to find a way to circumvent the Iberian control of the route to the Orient, to the time when in 1960 the nuclear submarine, USS Seadragon, made the first submerged transit and then the 1969 transit of the tanker Manhattan. Both of them had in fact been preceded, though, by the St. Roch, which in an extraordinary voyage between 1940 and 1942 passed through the passage from west to east.
This was the culmination of a long series of voyages, many of them catastrophic, which Delgado describes. It is a sobering final thought that global warming may before long make the passage relatively easy.

David Buisseret
The University of Texas at Arlington

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