Society for the History of Discoveries

Koryakin, V.S.  Frederick Albert Cook 1865-1940.  Moscow:  Nauka, 2002.  250 p. ISBN 5020227307.

     Few people outside the circle of those with a real interest in polar studies know of the American Dr. Frederick Albert Cook.  He is nevertheless a significant figure in the history of polar exploration, and a controversial one as well.  Born and educated in New York, he first went to the Arctic with Robert E. Peary in 1890-1892 as his surgeon.  Thereafter, Cook was a participant in seven other international Arctic and Antarctic expeditions through 1909.

     Cook alleged, fraudulently, that he climbed Mt. McKinley in 1906, and as part of an Arctic expedition in 1907-1909, he claimed to have reached the North Pole in April 1908, almost a full year before Peary.  In part because of his earlier Mt. McKinley fiasco and in part because of a lack of substantiating evidence, Peary accused Cook of having committed yet another deception.  Both men defended their positions in publications and talks and have had their supporters among polar explorers and scholars; the dispute surrounding Cook’s claim reaches into the present.  In his later years, Cook became an oil- field promoter in Texas, and served part of an eight-year sentence for mail fraud in prison in 1925-1930 before receiving a pardon.

     Frederick Albert Cook 1865-1940, by Vladislav S. Koryakin in Russian, is the first reasonably complete treatment of the polar explorer to appear in any language.  The author is considered the leading Russian glaciologist and is the polar historian of the Department of Geography of the Russian Academy of Sciences, who for the last two decades has translated into Russian and edited the works of Roald Amundsen, Peter Freuchen, Peary, and Cook.  Koryakin rather scientifically lays out Cook’s life and then, relatively dispassionately, discusses its controversies, above all those concerning the Mt. McKinley climb and reaching the North Pole.  With regard to the latter dispute, like most Russian scholars and many others in the field he lines up with Cook against Peary.  Koryakin argues that while Cook’s scaling of Mt. McKinley may be in doubt, this should not influence in a major way the examination of the North Pole evidence, which Koryakin believes is substantial enough to support Cook’s contention.

     This volume is illustrated throughout with numerous black-and-white period photographs and maps.  It concludes with a brief but helpful chronology of Cook’s life and a bibliography of Russian and English primary and other sources.  Obviously, this book does not settle the Cook-Peary argument, but rather continues it and even contributes to it.  Koryakin has written a notable piece of polar exploration scholarship that deserves to reach a wider audience by being translated into English and other Western languages.

Dennis Reinhartz

The University of Texas at Arlington

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