Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The U.S. Exploring Expedition

Yesterday at Walgreen’s, of all places, I happened across a pile of cut-price books, and among mystery potboilers like The Sesame Street Murders and thrillers such as The Postmaster General’s Mistress and copies of Danielle Steel’s 439th bestseller, there was a hardback copy of Sea of Glory by Nathaniel Philbrick. Originally published at $27.95, mine for $5 plus tax. It became my impulse purchase for the day.

It’s about the U.S. Exploring Expedition from 1838-1842. “By any measure, the achievements of the Expedition would be extraordinary,” the preface says. “After four years at sea... the Expedition logged 87,000 miles, surveyed 280 Pacific islands, and created 180 charts -- some of which were still being used as late as World War II. The Expedition also mapped 800 miles of coastline in the Pacific Northwest and 1,500 miles of the icebound Antarctic coast. Just as important would be its contribution to the rise of science in America. The thousands of specimens and artefacts amassed by the Expedition’s scientists would become the foundation of the collections of the Smithsonian Institution. Indeed, without [the Expedition], there might never have been a national museum in Washington, D.C. The U.S. Botanic Gardens, the U.S. Hydrographic Office and the Naval Observatory all owe their existence, in varying degrees, to the Expedition.”

And yet the Expedition's largely been forgotten. This is a book for me.

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At 11:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If at all well written, it ought to be an interesting. I've read a little about this expedition in a book (whose name eludes me at present) on early Antarctic exploration. According to the Wikipedia (which I haven't had time to verify) the commander, Chas. Wilkes, was John Wilkes' ("Wilkes and Liberty")great-nephew, and his aunt was St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. In 1861 Wilkes - this I know; it's not from the Wikipedia - nearly started a war between Great Britain & the United States when he intercepted a British ship, the Trent, on the high seas, and removed Mason and Slidell, Confederate diplomats bound to Europe. ANK


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