Disappointment River: Finding and Losing the Northwest Passage (Hardcover)
Ruth says: Castner canoed the entire Mackenzie River in summer of 2016, from Slave Lake to the Arctic Ocean. His strong writing makes short work of a long paddle, and he brings a profitable haul of stories from the territory, alternating his contemporary travelogue with the journeys of Alexander Mackenzie and other fur-trade voyageurs. Abandon notions of timeless wilderness! Mackenzie’s grueling foray into the unknown in the cold of the Little Ice Age could have happened in another world, compared to Castner’s sunburned and lightning-plagued trip in our hot century. Mackenzie thought he failed to find a Northwest Passage to the Pacific, but he was just 200 years too early for ice-free Arctic shipping routes.
Reading this will make you eager for the thaw so you can launch a canoe and go somewhere. I’m not quite as ambitious as Brian Castner, but I might paddle Palmer Slough all the way to the Pacific.— From Ruth's Picks
Disappointment River is a dual historical narrative and travel memoir that at once transports readers back to the heroic age of North American exploration and places them in a still rugged but increasingly fragile Arctic wilderness in the process of profound alteration by the dual forces of globalization and climate change. Fourteen years before Lewis and Clark, Mackenzie set off to cross the continent of North America with a team of voyageurs and Chipewyan guides, to find a trade route to the riches of the East. What he found was a river that he named "Disappointment." Mackenzie died thinking he had failed. He was wrong.
In this book, Brian Castner not only retells the story of Mackenzie's epic voyages in vivid prose, he personally retraces his travels, battling exhaustion, exposure, mosquitoes, white water rapids and the threat of bears. He transports readers to a world rarely glimpsed in the media, of tar sands, thawing permafrost, remote indigenous villages and, at the end, a wide open Arctic Ocean that could become a far-northern Mississippi of barges and pipelines and oil money.
—Rinker Buck, Wall Street Journal
“Whether recounting the historic search for the Northwest Passage or his own epic journey on the Mackenzie River, Castner is an able guide, a steady hand, a voice of reason. You’ll want to sit in his canoe and ride this out. I couldn’t put Disappointment River down.”
—Dean King, author of Skeletons on the Zahara and The Feud
"...[Castner] provides a lively biography of Mackenzie, the youngest principal in the Northwest Company, contending not just with the rigors of exploration, but also with early corporate politics...A vital addition to the library of the far north and of exploration."
—Kirkus, starred review
"An exhilerating historical narrative...Castner evokes vivid personalities and drama from the archives ... Historians and armchair travelers alike will be equally pleased with this volume."
"Vividly described, in well-wrought scenes that alternate from inspiring to humorous to stomach-clenching... Castner is a highly skilled writer and engaging companion."
—Anchorage Daily News
"Appealing on both historical and contemporary levels, Castner’s work will please readers fascinated by tales of discovery."
"...Intriguing and enlightening...For anyone concerned with the global effects of climate change, the meaning behind Disappointment River becomes alarmingly clear."