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.
Disappointment River is a 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 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 in an attempt 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. What he reveals is a world that Alexander Mackenzie dreamed of but could never have fully imagined.
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.
"Discovering history, and not just new landscapes around the next bend in the river, is one of the delights of Disappointment River. And, during a time when so many American descendants of foreign extraction rail against immigration, it’s useful to recall that all of us originated in a diaspora." —Rinker Buck, Wall Street Journal
“Vivid. . . . Castner has the Conradian ability to make you see and feel.” —The Washington Post
“Disappointment River is an adventure tale that will keep you happily reading while safely in your armchair.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Whether recounting the historic search for the Northwest Passage or his own epic journey on the Mackenzie River, Castner is an able guide, a steady hand, a voice of reason. You’ll want to sit in his canoe and ride this out. I couldn’t put Disappointment River down.” —Dean King, author of Skeletonson the Zahara and The Feud
"...[Castner] provides a lively biography of Mackenzie, the youngest principal in the Northwest Company, contending not just with the rigors of exploration, but also with early corporate politics...A vital addition to the library of the far north and of exploration." —Kirkus, starred review
"An exhilarating historical narrative...Castner evokes vivid personalities and drama from the archives ... Historians and armchair travelers alike will be equally pleased with this volume." —Publishers Weekly
"Vividly described, in well-wrought scenes that alternate from inspiring to humorous to stomach-clenching... Castner is a highly skilled writer and engaging companion." —Anchorage Daily News
"Appealing on both historical and contemporary levels, Castner’s work will please readers fascinated by tales of discovery." —Booklist
"...Intriguing and enlightening...For anyone concerned with the global effects of climate change, the meaning behind Disappointment River becomes alarmingly clear." —BookPage