Tells the story of Franklin’s Lost Expedition both as it happened, as well as an archeological point of view where we piece together what happened. The two ships set off in 1845 to explore the northwest passage, spends the first winter on Beechey Island (near Devon Island), but then gets stuck for two years in the pack ice. The crew decides to abandon ship and head south overland, but everyone dies of starvation and exposure.
There were numerous attempts in the 1850s to find out what happened to the expedition, and through these search efforts, the arctic got fully explored. Three graves were found, then a bunch of scattered dead crew members, and interviews with the native Inuit reveals that they resorted to cannibalism in their final stages. The author’s modern archeological expeditions in the 1980s exhumed the three graves, and found that lead poisoning was a major factor.
It’s still not certain what caused the expedition’s disaster, likely a mixture of scurvy (the process of making tins destroyed vitamin C), lead poisoning, food going bad due to shoddy canning. The ships were recently discovered and we’ll likely learn more in the future. The book had some quite disturbing images of the dead bodies. Although interesting, it’s probably best not to read too much about this sort of story: it displays the transience of human life and certainty of death.