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  • Disappointment River

  • Finding and Losing the Northwest Passage
  • By: Brian Castner
  • Narrated by: Brian Castner
  • Length: 12 hrs and 6 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History, Americas
  • 4.0 out of 5 stars (1 rating)

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Publisher's Summary

In 1789, Alexander Mackenzie traveled the 1,125 miles of the immense river in Canada that now bears his name, in search of the fabled Northwest Passage, only to confront impassable pack ice. 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 listeners 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 energy extraction and climate change. Eleven years before Lewis and Clark, the Scottish explorer Alexander Mackenzie actually crossed the North American continent with a team of voyageurs and Indian guides. Before that he was the first to discover a route to the Arctic Ocean from the Great Lakes, along the river he named Disappointment because he believed he'd failed in his mission to find a trade route to the riches of the East. In fact he had - he was just two-plus centuries early. 

In this book, Brian Castner not only retells the story of Mackenzie's epic voyages in vivid prose, he personally retraces his travels in an 1,125 mile canoe voyage down the river that bears his name, battling exhaustion, exposure, mosquitoes, white-water rapids, and the threat of bears. He transports listeners to a world rarely glimpsed in the media, of tar sands, thawing permafrost, remote Native American villages, and, at the end, a wide open Arctic Ocean that is quickly becoming a far-northern Mississippi of barges and pipelines and oil money. 

©2018 Brian Castner (P)2018 Random House Audio

What listeners say about Disappointment River

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  • Jean
  • 06-05-2018

Excellent

I remember sitting in a high school class years ago in Canada learning about Alexander Mackenzie’s discovery of the Mackenzie River. At 1,100 miles, it is North Americas second largest river. Then as per usual in those days I would start to day dream about traversing the river with Mackenzie in his hunt for the northwest passage. Alexander Mackenzie made the trip in Jun 1789 with a crew of thirteen, made up of voyageurs and native people. In June 2016 Brian Castren made the same trip in a fiberglass canoe with all modern equipment and camping food. Setting off from the Great Slave Lake at the same spot as Mackenzie he followed his route to the Beaufort Sea. The major change in the two hundred plus year is the retreating of the ice.

The book is well written and researched. Oh, how I would have loved to do that trip myself. But with the book I can mentally travel it. I know the area of the North West Territories fairly well. I have kayaked parts of the Mackenzie River as well as the Lake Hattah area back in the 1950s. The book is in part the history of the Mackenzie trip of discovery and a travel log by Castren as he made the trip in Mackenzie’s footsteps. If you like history of discovery and a travel adventure this book is for you.

I read this as an audiobook downloaded from Audible. The book is just over twelve hours. The author narrated the book.

8 people found this helpful

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  • D Cummings
  • 31-03-2018

Thoroughly enjoyed this Book!

Great story about an interesting time on the North American continent. Well written and well told, did not want it to end...

3 people found this helpful

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  • aaron
  • 01-04-2018

A Modernly Historic Adventure Book!

Brian knocked this one out of the park. Something I thought I might have only moderate interest in became something I was absolutely riveted by in his hands. His narration is spot on. If you have even an inkling of curiosity in a modern day Lewis and Clark-like adventure, this is the book for you.

I would encourage Brian to do more outdoor adventure books like this. He has a real talent for this genre, and there aren't many talented authors out there who are will to put themselves in (relative) danger in order to tell a unique story like this. Most authors who write books like this are dry, dull, and boring. Not Brian!

Highly recommend.

6 people found this helpful

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  • Douglass Andreassen
  • 13-04-2018

The title says it all of this little told story

Would you consider the audio edition of Disappointment River to be better than the print version?

N/A as I have not read the print version

What other book might you compare Disappointment River to and why?

The history of the finding of the Columbia River

What aspect of Brian Castner’s performance would you have changed?

Brian tells a good story, there is at times during the story when you are not sure if he is talking about the present journey or those of 200 years ago.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

If I had the time, yes, a very interesting story

Any additional comments?

This is a wonderful story of the discovery of the rivers and their tributaries in the Northern Territories. These stories could go on and on if any author had the time to connect all the stories of the northern continent. Not only are the characters fascinating, the battle between the fur companies was epic in its business practices and ruthless in its quest to dominate a billion dollar market.

1 person found this helpful

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  • J
  • 26-04-2021

Part memoir, part history

I really enjoyed listening to this book, the author narrates both his journey and historical parts very well. I found the historical parts about Mackenzie and the trade so interesting and well researched. Castner brings the characters and landscape to life and you feel how harsh and brutal that part of the world was back then, and how not much has changed so many years later. (Except for the glaring effects of climate change).

Well worth a listen and checking out other books narrated by the author too!

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  • Than
  • 23-04-2019

Great History

This is the first book I've listened to on here that I had to slowdown the play rate of. I listened to this book at 0.75x speed because the reader just seemed to read a little fast to me.
As far as the information in the book. It's good history stuff, a little boring at the beginning but it picks up. My biggest problem with the book is that it's a mix of history which is great with the author's own canoeing trip down the Mackenzie River. It's at least half and half. Would have preferred just a book about Mackenzie's history.

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  • Brandon Dunaway
  • 22-04-2019

Instantly transported to the voyage

This is a great selection. The author does a fantastic job of transporting you to both his and Mackenzie's voyage. The entire book will keep you engaged. I wanted to learn more about Mackenzie's voyage and did so. And as much as I enjoyed the story of Mackenzie's voyage, I enjoyed hearing about the author's voyage more.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 16-07-2018

Obscure History and High Adventure

I enjoyed this saga of little-known history of McKenzie and the English Chief's search for a Northwest Passage interspersed with the challenges of the author's (Brian Castner's) quest to canoe the route in 2016. Further, I was reminded of many similar experiences in backwoods across the globe and found myself looking for time to continue the narrative. Note: I don't recall Castner describing his portages due to waterfalls along his modern day McKenzie River run.

In the spirit of reconciliation, Audible Australia acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of country throughout Australia and their connections to land, sea and community. We pay our respect to their elders past and present and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples today.