Disappointment River: Finding and Losing the Northwest Passage (Hardcover)

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Staff Reviews

Over the course of reading Disappointment River, I found myself frequently looking up canoe and kayak prices at my local outdoor sporting store, the same way I was actually looking up trips to Alaska while reading Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild. While I'm not a rower, I found myself hearing the call of the Mackenzie River in this dual narrative that simultaneously transports the reader back to the late-1700s to tell the story of the early American fur trade and the significance of the Northwest Passage while also serving as a contemporary travelogue of author Brian Castner, as he retraces explorer Alexander Mackenzie's journey himself in a completely changed landscape over 200 years later. Castner, a former explosive ordnance officer in Iraq, is known as the author of two books detailing experiences in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, has written a new type of adventure with the same level of command and authority on the subject. 

— From Kalani


In 1789, Alexander Mackenzie traveled 1200 miles on the immense river in Canada that now bears his name, in search of the fabled Northwest Passage that had eluded mariners for hundreds of years. In 2016, the acclaimed memoirist Brian Castner retraced Mackenzie's route by canoe in a grueling journey -- and discovered the Passage he could not find.

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.

About the Author

Brian Castner is a former Explosive Ordnance Disposal officer who received a Bronze Star for his service in the Iraq War. He is the author of two books, The Long Walk (2012) and All the Ways We Kill and Die (2016), and the co-editor of the anthology The Road Ahead (2017). His journalism and essays have appeared in Esquire, Wired, Vice, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Atlantic, and other publications. The Long Walk was adapted into an opera that has been performed at prestigious venues nationwide.

Product Details
ISBN: 9780385541626
ISBN-10: 0385541627
Publisher: Doubleday Books
Publication Date: March 13th, 2018
Pages: 352
Language: English