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Book Review, NRJ 58.4

November 15, 2013 12:00 PM | David Eddy

Arctic Mission: 90 North by Airship and Submarine

William F. Althoff

In 1957 the race for dominance in the Space Age began with the launch of Sputnik 1 by the Soviet Union Although a demonstration of the viability of satellites to explore our upper atmosphere, the event was considered a national humiliation for the United States, which increased Cold War tensions. In an effort to demonstrate technological prowess, the echelons of the United States government ordered a top-secret transit of the Arctic Ocean from Pacific to Atlantic via the North Pole. The nuclear submarine Nautilus (SSN-571) would (hopefully) reaffirm American technological capabilities through an under-ice transit of the Arctic Basin. In conjunction, the Office of Naval Research initiated a second project: to assess whether non-rigid airships, or blimps, could support field parties in the Arctic. Arctic Mission, recounts the American penetrations of the Arctic in 1958, utilizing interviews, naval reports, and journal excerpts.

Althoff presents a detailed, visual history of this epic artic. At first, he seems to get lost in the geophysical explanations of the Arctic environment; this may be a natural inclination given his professional background, but on first read it detracts from the main purpose and thesis of the volume. Granted, it is important to understand the complexity of the Arctic environment, but this is not the focus of the book. Additionally, Althoff shortly focuses on an unspoken argument between Canada and the United States for the dominance of the North American continent, making the first chapter difficult to follow and ,to be honest, leaving the reader at a loss for words.

However, after this initial confusion, Althoff provides a thorough examination of Cold War history, including the fight for Arctic sovereignty, and the stages of technological development and exploration. He provides excellent visual and documentary support for each stage of development, from ships plans and route maps, to personal photos and confidential correspondence. Sometimes the details are overwhelming and occasionally off subject, but Althoff’s investigation into the complex realm of false starts, new directions, environmental complications, solitude, and fraternity provides an intriguing picture of an unknown chapter of Cold War history. 

  • Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2011
  • 9” x 11-1/4”, hardcover, xvii + 264 pages
  • Photographs, maps, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. $39.95
  • ISBN: 9781612610101 

Reviewed by Jennifer Jones, East Carolina University

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