Copyright 1997 The New York Times Company
April 20, 1997
By JAMES VESCOVI
ho discovered the
North Pole? The question, as old as the claims themselves, is
by Robert M. Bryce, a research librarian at Montgomery College in
''Cook & Peary'' comprises biographies of Robert E. Peary
the prize in most history books) and Frederick A. Cook, and an analysis
of their claims. Until their fight over discovery of the North Pole,
fellow explorers enjoyed cordial relations. A doctor from Brooklyn,
treated Peary's broken leg during an expedition to Greenland in 1891.
later achieved his own celebrity, saving an Antarctic expedition from
by persuading members to eat raw penguin meat. But his star began to
in 1906, with his claim to be the first man to ascend Mount McKinley,
definitively refuted by Mr. Bryce's meticulous scrutiny of Cook's bogus
''summit'' photographs. In 1908, Cook, with two Eskimos, made a dash
the North Pole, which he said he reached in April, a year before Peary.
Peary, himself on his final attempt, roared back to civilization and,
by affluent and well-connected supporters, won the battle, at least
His claim, challenged by Mr. Bryce and others, now seems fraudulent.
Bryce also demolishes Cook's evidence. Not only was he inept at making
celestial calculations, but a copy of his polar diary (the original is
lost), unearthed in Denmark by Mr. Bryce, shows erasures and
Mr. Bryce's zeal to leave no stone unturned (130 pages of footnotes)
his book: he sometimes gets mired in too much detail. Nevertheless, he
has made a leap forward in resolving the North Pole question.
Robert M. Bryce.