You’ve probably heard of the Hudson River, and you may have even heard of Hudson Bay. But have you ever heard of Henry Hudson? Well you should, and now thanks to Peter Mancall‘s page-turning Fatal Journey: The Final Expedition of Henry Hudson (Basic Books, 2009) you can. And very pleasurably at that. Hudson was an explorer. He was looking for fame and fortune, both of which happened to be located in what Europeans called the “South Sea,” that is, the Pacific Ocean. For there were found the Spice Islands on which could be found (you guessed it) spices. These spices were incredibly valuable. A boatload of spices was worth a boatload of cash. Hudson knew it, and so did everyone else. The problem was that it was hard to get there, particularly from England. One had to sail around Africa, and that was no easy trick. So Hudson set about looking for a Northeast (above Russia) and Northwest (above Canada) passage. In point of fact the former exists, though only modern icebreakers (often nuclear powered) can get through it, and the latter doesn’t exist at all. Hudson didn’t know that. He had bad maps. So he tried, four times actually, to make it through. On the fourth voyage everything in the Far North went south, so to say. Cold, hunger, mutiny, murder. Peter tells the whole gripping tale, and very well. I’m hoping the book will be made into a movie. I’m thinking Russell Crowe (obviously) for Hudson.
Please become a fan of “New Books in History” on Facebook if you haven’t already.