Race to the Top of the World: Richard Byrd and the First Flight to the North Pole

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Author Talk
Sheldon Bart
6:00pm (with 5:30 reception)

One hundred years ago—then as now—the eyes of the industrialized world were on the Arctic.  It was widely held in this era that a new, uncharted continent would be found in the Arctic Ocean.  Scientific treatises “proved” its existence.  As aviation developed, the mythical land became endowed with commercial value and strategic importance.  This was the context in which Richard Byrd (1888-1957) emerged as an explorer—an international quest for a mythic grail.  His rivals included Roald Amundsen, Lincoln Ellsworth, and Hubert Wilkins.  The Arctic was considered as remote as outer space in the 1920s, and aerial exploits north of the Arctic Circle attracted a tremendous amount of attention.  The New York Times called the race “the greatest story of the year.”  The sensationalism, however, has never ended.  Byrd’s flight to the North Pole has been bitterly disputed for the better part of a century, and almost every part of his early life and career has become controversial.  Author Sheldon Bart offers compelling new evidence and new revelations to substantiate his thesis that the controversies still swirling around Admiral Byrd—including the legitimacy of his flight to the North Pole—are based on incomplete research, distortion, and superficial assessment.

Writer-explorer Sheldon Bart is a member of the Board of Governors of the American Polar Society and president and founder of Wilderness Research Foundation (WRF), a not-for-profit organization seeking to create more opportunities for scientific exploration beyond the limited regime of government funding. He organized and led the 1996 American Expedition to Baffin Island in the Canadian Eastern Arctic and was project manager of the 2010 WRF Antarctic Peninsula field program.  Sheldon has lectured at the National Archives, the Explorers Club, the Virginia Historical Society, the National Museum of the U.S. Navy, the Geographical Society of Philadelphia, the Elisha Kent Kane Historical Society, Hunter College of the City University of New York, and the Byrd Polar Research Center at Ohio State University.  He is a senior associate at LAPA Fundraising, a consulting firm based in New York City, and has published fiction and nonfiction.  He is currently working on a novel based on his own polar adventures.