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Ship Misguided by Faulty Maps

In the Kingdom of Ice is journalist Hampton Sides' compelling account of the failed nineteenth-century polar expedition of the USS Jeannette, captained by Lieutenant George De Long. It serves as a cautionary tale about the hazards of misorientation—not because of a faulty compass but because of a mistaken map. De Long's entire expedition rested on a picture of the (unknown) North Pole laid out in the (ultimately deluded) maps of Dr. August Heinrich Petermann. Petermann's maps suggested a "thermometric gateway" through the ice that opened onto a vast "polar sea" on the top of the world—a fair-weather passage beyond all the ice. De Long's entire expedition was staked on these maps.

But it turned out he was heading to a world that didn't exist. As perilous ice quickly surrounded the ship, Sides recounts, the team had to "shed its organizing ideas, in all their unfounded romance, and to replace them with a reckoning of the way the Arctic truly is."

Our culture often sells us faulty, fantastical maps of "the good life" that paint alluring pictures that draw us toward them. All too often we stake the expedition of our lives on them, setting sail toward them with every sheet hoisted. And we do so without thinking about it because these maps work on our imagination, not our intellect. It's not until we're shipwrecked that we realize we trusted faulty maps.

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