Books: Polar Heroics and Delusions

THE NOOSE OF LAURELS: ROBERT E. PEARY AND THE RACE TO THE NORTH POLE by Wally Herbert; Atheneum; 395 pages; $22.50

Probably it is necessary for us to have heroes so that, by inoculation, we will learn to distrust heroes. Baseball idols peddling autographs at $15 a scribble provide this useful disillusion today. A few decades ago, the clay feet -- frostbitten, of course -- were those of polar explorers. Wally Herbert, who reached the North Pole by dogsled in 1969, writes knowledgeably about two of the most fascinating of the fakers: Robert E. Peary and Dr. Frederick Cook, archrivals in...

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