Monday, December 5, 2022

Mini-Review: Empire of Ice and Stone by Buddy Levy

Empire of Ice and Stone: The Disastrous and Heroic Voyage of the Karluk by Buddy Levy
St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: December 6th, 2022
Hardcover. 432 pages.

About Empire of Ice and Stone:

"The true, harrowing story of the ill-fated 1913 Canadian Arctic Expedition and the two men who came to define it. 

In the summer of 1913, the wooden-hulled brigantine Karluk departed Canada for the Arctic Ocean. At the helm was Captain Bob Bartlett, considered the world’s greatest living ice navigator. The expedition’s visionary leader was a flamboyant impresario named Vilhjalmur Stefansson hungry for fame. 

Just six weeks after the Karluk departed, giant ice floes closed in around her. As the ship became icebound, Stefansson disembarked with five companions and struck out on what he claimed was a 10-day caribou hunting trip. Most on board would never see him again. 

Twenty-two men and an Inuit woman with two small daughters now stood on a mile-square ice floe, their ship and their original leader gone. Under Bartlett’s leadership they built make-shift shelters, surviving the freezing darkness of Polar night. Captain Bartlett now made a difficult and courageous decision. He would take one of the young Inuit hunters and attempt a 1000-mile journey to save the shipwrecked survivors. It was their only hope. 

Set against the backdrop of the Titanic disaster and World War I, filled with heroism, tragedy, and scientific discovery, Buddy Levy's Empire of Ice and Stone tells the story of two men and two distinctively different brands of leadership: one selfless, one self-serving, and how they would forever be bound by one of the most audacious and disastrous expeditions in polar history, considered the last great voyage of The Heroic Age of Discovery."

As someone who can't seem to get enough of reading about polar expeditions and stories of exploration in general (in any climate), I knew Empire of Ice and Stone would be a must-read for me as soon as I saw it. This is an incredible account of the Karluk's 1913 expedition  to the Arctic and the many trials that plagued the men on this journey, along with successes and triumphs in a variety of forms. 

What I liked: Buddy Levy's research for Empire of Ice and Stone is impeccable and he includes an incredibly thorough accounting of all components of the story, from backgrounds of prominent figures to the planning stages to the long, arduous journey itself. I thought Levy wove all of this information into a very coherent and engaging narrative that I found easy to follow along with. No matter how many polar or general exploration expeditions I read about, I will never fail to be dumbfounded by either the lack of planning or the response to the discovery of a problem as "eh, we'll be fine" that seems so common among these leaders (looking at you, Vilhjalmur Stefansson). I really enjoyed learning about Captain Bob Bartlett, and since I always love observing various leadership styles I was pleased to see that Levy highlighted this throughout the book. I also found myself fully invested in many of the people involved in these expedition because of how well Levy portrayed their personalities and actions while out on the ice, and this is part of what really made this book such a captivating story that made me feel as though I were out on the ice with them all (but not really, because that would suck, let's be honest). 

What I didn't like: I don't really have any complaints! I thought this was really compelling, well-written and researched, and because of that I'm not sure what to say as a negative. The expedition itself is pretty long and not always the most exciting, so I could see things maybe dragging a little bit at times, but I didn't find this to be much of an issue. 

Buy the book: Amazon |


  1. This sounds interesting. I have read other books about Arctic explorations, but nothing about Karluk's 1913 expedition. Great review.

  2. I love these types of stories too, although I don't think I've read a non fiction one. I love your comment about some of the dumb decisions they make!