Both a biography of a courageous African-American man and a history of the exploration of the North Pole, Michael Gilman’s Matthew Henson: Explorer gives the reader an in-depth account of the six expeditions to the Arctic that finally resulted in reaching the North Pole. The expeditions were led by Robert E. Peary, whom Henson met, according to the opening chapter of the book, while working in a hat shop in Washington, D.C. Peary, a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Civil Engineer Corps, was preparing to lead an expedition through Nicaragua in an attempt to find a canal route to connect the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. He was in need of a servant and invited Henson along. Henson served well and rose through the ranks quickly to form the basis of a very close professional relationship with Peary that would last twenty-two years. This relationship is chronicled within the eight chapters of Matthew Henson.
Gilman retraces Henson’s life in chapter 2, briefly detailing Henson’s early life growing up in Maryland and Washington, D.C., the death of both his father and mother, and his need to become self-supporting at the age of thirteen. In fuller detail, Gilman follows Henson to the sea, where he began his life of travel and adventure as a cabin boy. He was befriended by a captain who took a special interest in Henson and encouraged not only his education but also his will to never give up.
Chapters 3 through 7 detail the actual...
(The entire section is 513 words.)