The Stowaway

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 16 Jan 2018

Member Reviews

A good openi;g but it lost momentum in a serious way while doing background, and never quite recovered.
Was this review helpful?
This book was good but slow. As a bit of history nerd myself, I liked the parts between action or "the good stuff" but that will be a sticking point with many of my students. It takes perseverance to get through this book and with struggling readers that is a lot to ask, which is why I only gave 3 stars.

I would have easily given this four stars if it just moved a bit quicker.
Was this review helpful?
Okay, to start off with, I need to say that I did not realize that this was non-fiction. I thought it was historical fiction, so my expectations were flawed. I was expecting more intimate knowledge of Billy's life, not just the facts. I was wrong. :(

I will say that even when depicting Billy solely with the facts available about him, he comes off as quite a character! I mean, he completely went against his parents in a time that that wasn't quite so common, he swam through the Hudson River (ew) to sneak onto the expedition ship with no supplies, got kicked off, and snuck back on not once, but two more times, and when given the chance, he worked his butt off for the chance to go on an unimaginable adventure.

I really loved all of the information about the era - what it was like for Polish immigrants in NYC, the economy and how it changed as the depression hit, and what had already happened in regards to Antarctic exploration, as well as what other explorers were doing concurrently to Byrd. I think one of my favorite thing about historical fiction books is when they do present so much historical fact and then give a story to it. Even though this story is non-fiction (did I mention that?), it did much the same thing.

Aside from all the background information, I really did enjoy learning about Byrd's expedition to be the first people to winter in Antarctica and fly over the south pole. I was the last unexplored frontier on Earth, and I fully understand why people went so crazy over it. It would have been amazing to be one of the few lucky ones chosen to be part of it, to be made part of history, to do something that literally no one else has ever done.
Was this review helpful?
This book had all the elements that make a good adventure story fun, but there were so many details that I found myself skipping over pages to get to the "good" stuff.  I love that we are given details of Billy's childhood but I was more interested in his adventure than his personal story up to that point.  I did enjoy reading this book
Was this review helpful?
What I Liked
Lots of historical context. I really appreciated the way in which the author went into detail about the history of Billy the stowaway’s family. Shapiro starts from the Gawronski’s immigration to Poland, Billy’s birth and his parent’s home decor enterprise, and only then leads into the central story of the expedition to Antarctic in which Billy participated. The reader really feels they know Billy and the Gawronski family well therefore, once Billy decides to attempt to run away to Antarctica. Aside from the Gawronski’s backstory, Shapiro also provides really useful context on previous similar expeditions carried out to the North and South Poles, with interesting historical details both at the beginning of the book and peppered throughout the narrative that enhance the reader’s understanding of Billy’s story.

The stowaway. Billy’s story is truly incredible and the real reason to read this book. The perseverance and passion that led this young teenager to pursue a life of adventure are truly admirable and uncommon. In attempting to board one of the ships heading off to Antarctica, Billy risks his life by jumping into the frigid waters of the Hudson, with no specific plan as to how he’ll make it onto the ship or stay concealed long enough to not be dropped back off at port before its departure for the icy continent. This is truly amazing considering that very few people at the time had ever set foot on Antarctica and there had been so many doomed expeditions to the Poles already. Billy’s courage is exciting and inspiring, transporting the reader with his enthusiasm for discovery and adventure.

Other characters. I was absolutely dumbstruck to discover that Billy was only one of several stowaways that attempted to hitch a ride to Antarctica on this particular expedition. Apparently it was not an unusual attempt either for this journey or the ones that preceded it, though Billy’s success at it was certainly out of the norm. I also found it absolutely captivating to learn about the lives of other sailors who joined Billy’s same exploration, including the discrimination experienced by African American sailors that occasionally found themselves included as part of polar crews, and the struggles that many of the sailors faced upon returning and trying to re-enter the work market in the United States during the Great Depression.

What I Didn't Like
Wanted more about the expedition itself. I loved the amount of context that the author provided about Billy’s life before the expedition, his efforts to be part of the journey, and the fate of many of the sailors once the expedition had ended. The narrative was a bit unbalanced, however when it comes to details about the life and experiences of the men once they arrived to Antarctica itself. Billy had only a limited role in camp life in Antarctica, which may be why the author didn’t provide more details on this part of the story, but it was definitely a let down for me. After all, if you’ve followed a plot all the way to the edge of the world, you want to be a part of what takes place once you get there. I would have also loved to see more primary documents from other sailors included in the narrative, like journals or letters.

Final Verdict
An exciting story about an uncommonly passionate young man, that will take you all the way to the icy banks of Antarctica and educate you on aspects of American history at the beginning of the 1900s – including other polar expeditions and the life of American sailors.
Was this review helpful?
In 1928, Billy Gawronski was the 17 year old son of a Polish immigrant family that once lived in the lower east side of Manhattan. He was looking for more adventure than he would find by joining his father's interior decorating business and he became obsessed with Antarctica. After repeated attempts, he managed to successfully stow away on one of the ships headed to Antartica as part of Richard Byrd's first expedition.  I was expecting an adventure story but what I got was the biography of man who played a small role in the expedition, became a media darling, returned home, dropped out of college during the Depression and served in the Merchant Marine during World War II.

I really don't know what the purpose of this book was. Why should I care about a biography of Billy's family?  There is some name dropping of the famous people who lived in the Bayside Queens neighborhood to which the family had moved.
We also learn who signed his yearbook.  Really, who needs to know that? An additional factoid is that Billy had a high school girlfriend. None of this was at all interesting to me. The expedition doesn't even reach Antartica until the last third of the book. The explorers remained there uneventfully for a few pages and then they all returned home.  This book was a big disappointment and I do not recommend it.  I'm sure there are better books about the Byrd expedition. There probably aren't any other books about Billy, and there's a reason for that.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.
Was this review helpful?
Looking at the other reviews, I am definitely in the minority with regards to this book!

I am a big fan of historical books; I find learning about other time periods and how life was then fascinating. I am also a big fan of biographies because I love the feeling of getting to know a person, seeing what shaped their life. Putting the two together, I thought The Stowaway would carry me away with young Billy on his adventure to travel with Admiral Byrd to the South Pole. A sure fit, I thought. I can't tell you how much I looked forward to settling in with this book for a vicarious adventure. But such was not to be. While it is obvious that Ms. Shapiro has done extensive research on the topic, her characters are so flat and lifeless that I put the book aside at 56%. Awww, other readers might say, it all came together in the last 44% of the book!! I doubt it. To me, the book that I started with such eagerness ended up reading like an overlong school report.

Not a match - it happens. But I'm still disappointed.

Many thanks to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for giving me the opportunity to read an e-copy of this book that everyone else seems to love.
Was this review helpful?
'Wherever you're from, there's always somewhere more exciting.'
Excellent - a rollicking, fun ride to the edge of the earth and back!
The story of Billy Gawronski is one that I had never heard before but I feel like now, it will be one that I never forget. A true tale of perseverance and adventure. Young Billy dreamed of traveling to far off places and saw his dreams become a reality when the infamous Admiral Byrd planned an excursion from NYC, where Billy lived with his immigrant parents, to the last unknown frontier of Antarctica. Billy was willing to do anything to be a part of this expedition - including stowing away - which is exactly what he did. 
This book takes us on a journey to the far reaches of the earth filling in history, geography and science along the way. This is actually a fairly quick read for a nonfiction book - not as dense as many tend to be. Because of this fact, I would think this would be a great book for YA-readers, as well as adults. The Author's Note at the end sealed the 5-star review from me. If you read this book - make sure you read all the way through. I thank the publisher for providing me with the opportunity to read and share my thoughts on this amazing story!
Was this review helpful?
Extraordinary! Exquisite! A spectacular true account of a young NY boy Billy Gawronski and his determination to make a name for himself on an expedition that would go down in history as one of the greats.
I'm in awe of this story as I've never heard about the Stowaway and was mesmerized by this story. A remarkable feat considering the roaring 20's and early 30's during The Great Depression , Prohibition and the ending of the Great War.
Everyone wanted to have their hand in this media frenzy from the most elite like Rockellers to the Vanderbilts. I've added this link from the Stowaway Crazy by the New Yorker which I found interesting :
Desperate to escape the dreary landscape and poverty Billy ( a juvenile delinquent in the eyes of some) swam the Hudson River jumping aboard to become a Stowaway to launch and expedition to Antarctica.
Captured and removed numerous times with many failed attempts to stay hidden he finally succeeded where others did not ( and trust me many tried).
Driven by desperation not fame he succeeded to become a team player being providing small jobs and ultimately reaching achievements he could only have dreamed of as a teenager.
Many accolades including his silver medal for saving plane parts was his high points. However, divorcing only a year later and having two kids; (George who died) and William ( the elder) who was facing a 30 yr sentence in northern Florida for a drug related crime; were his ultimate lows.
Many did not approve of the idea of having a designer cast the Byrd Antarctic Expedition Medal noting "Members of the Antarctic expedition will get congressional medals for proving that a penguin is a bird."
Although this expedition provided much more invaluable insight into the rough terrain, the increment weather, the animals that inhabited the land (whales/penguins) and showcased the true grit of these men who were determined to be the first.
Ticker tape parades soon followed but the fan fare didn't last and these men were found unemployed and begging for funds to support their family's in a time when employment was scarce.
As luck would have it Billy wasn't invited back for the three other expeditions after his mother requested privately to Admiral Byrd he not be sent out as she wanted more for him in terms of career , education, and future.
"The expedition may not have found lost dinosaurs or calculated just how many frozen miles the southernmost continent spanned, but wasn't making Americans aware of Antarctica not enough of a legacy?"
"In fact it was the Byrd's World's Fair exhibit that introduced millions of American kids to the Antarctic."
Financing these expeditions was also no small accomplishment as it took tremendous amounts of (fundraising) and money, time, equipment, and donations for food and supplies to make it work.
Applying to dental school hoping for a scholarship wasn't meant to be for Billy and but he did secure a position as assistant lecturer and usher traveling the NE by railroad car with the American Pacific Whaling Company as a 'whale usher'.
"Antarctica was desolate and forbearing" he told one group of grown men.
He later went on to captain his own ship becoming the youngest captains in WWII and found love a second time and married.
In fact it was his widow Gizela Gawronski who helped acquire the information for this book to be completed.
The amount of research, interviews, searching cemetery listings, meetings with the jailed son, was truly a challenge and I'm so deeply appreciative for it all.
"Billy would never talk much about those days. Some adventures are best left unexamined."
"My dreams have come true. No more hiding the the hold for me. I'm the happiest boy in the country." 
It was the day the boy became a man and it was truly an extraordinary adventure.
Thank you to Laurie Gwen Shapiro for this eread from NetGalley and Aldiko in exchange for this honest review.
I was truly blown away by it all and highly recommend.
Was this review helpful?
Ahoy there me mateys!  Though this log’s focus is on sci-fi, fantasy, and young adult, this Captain does have broader reading tastes. So occasionally I will share some novels that I enjoyed that are off the charts (a non sci-fi, fantasy, or young adult novel), as it were. I received this non-fiction eARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  So here be me honest musings . . .

the stowaway (Sarah Krasnostein)

Title: the stowaway: a young man's extraordinary adventure to antarctica

Author: Laurie Gwen Shapiro

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Publication Date: Available Now! (hardback/ebook)

ISBN: 978-1476753867

Source: NetGalley

This novel was recommended by stephanie @ adventuresofabibliophile.  The title and cover immediately captured me fancy.  Stowaways and a ship!  Arrr!  It takes place in the 1920s which is a bonus.  Also me adventurous ma is currently on a ship heading for Antarctica and penguins and cold!  So it seemed appropriate to read about previous Antarctic explorers.

While I prefer sunnier climes, I have always had a fascination for exploration stories of all kinds be it mountain climbin', island hoppin', or south pole ice scramblin'.  As a younger lass I read about Shackleton, Darwin, and Cook's true life adventures.  National Geographic magazine was a much loved publication.  Equally beloved were the fictional survival stories like White Fang, Robinson Crusoe, and the Count of Monte Cristo.  I continue to love these types of stories like recent reads castle of water and feel me fall (highly recommended).

So I began to read this book about Billy Gawronski who was so obsessed with being a member of Byrd's crew that he was a stowaway on Byrd's ships not once but three times!  His tenaciousness and pure grit to make it to Antarctica was endearing and fun.  He wasn't the only one trying to secure a place on this expedition.  Byrd was a crafty man and had thousands of candidates trying to obtain a non-paying berth on the voyage attempting to make American history.

Overall I found this to be a more a story about the facts surrounding getting to and from Antarctica rather than what happened on Antarctica.  It is a seemingly well-researched book.  Much like in real life, Byrd really is the center of the story with Billy's portions as the more humanistic filler.  The beginning of the book up until the establishment of Little America is the best part of the book though the story loses steam after that.  In any case I found many of the tangential facts to be fascinating.  Like how President Coolidge had a pancake breakfast with actresses in an attempt to bolster his election campaign.  This book was a quick read that I enjoyed even if I thought it would be more about Billy's adventures in Antarctica.

So lastly . . .

Thank you Simon & Schuster!

Side note: the author has a marvelous article in the New Yorker about "the Stowaway Craze."  It even shows a photo of Billy!  What fun!

Netgalley's website has this to say about the novel:

The spectacular, true story of a scrappy teenager from New York’s Lower East Side who stowed away on the Roaring Twenties’ most remarkable feat of science and daring: an expedition to Antarctica.

It was 1928: a time of illicit booze, of Gatsby and Babe Ruth, of freewheeling fun. The Great War was over and American optimism was higher than the stock market. What better moment to launch an expedition to Antarctica, the planet’s final frontier? There wouldn’t be another encounter with an unknown this magnificent until Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon.

Everyone wanted in on the adventure. Rockefellers and Vanderbilts begged to be taken along as mess boys, and newspapers across the globe covered the planning’s every stage. And then, the night before the expedition’s flagship set off, Billy Gawronski—a mischievous, first-generation New York City high schooler desperate to escape a dreary future in the family upholstery business—jumped into the Hudson River and snuck aboard.

Could he get away with it?

From the soda shops of New York’s Lower East Side to the dance halls of sultry Francophone Tahiti, all the way to Antarctica’s blinding white and deadly freeze, Laurie Gwen Shapiro’s The Stowaway takes you on the unforgettable voyage of a plucky young stowaway who became a Jazz Age celebrity, a mascot for an up-by-your bootstraps era.

To visit the author’s website go to:

Laurie Gwen Shapiro - Author

To buy the novel go to:

stowaway - Book

To add to Goodreads go to:

Yer Ports for Plunder List
Was this review helpful?
What would you be willing to do to gain the opportunity to experience an adventure of a lifetime? What risks would you take to take part in something historic? How far would you go? Would you travel to the ends of the earth?

For Billy Gawronski, the answer to that last question was “Yes.”

Young Billy is the star of Laurie Gwen Shapiro’s new book “The Stowaway: A Young Man’s Extraordinary Adventure to Antarctica.” It’s the true story of a teenager who wanted nothing more than to take part in a great adventure – specifically, to be a part of Richard Byrd’s expedition to Antarctica. And with nothing more than overflowing reserves of desire and chutzpah, Billy made it so.

In the year 1928, there are only a few unknowns left to be explored. Perhaps the biggest of the bunch is Antarctica – the last true frontier. Explorer Richard Byrd is assembling an expedition to give that icy continent its most thorough going-over ever. The centerpiece of the mission is to be the first flyover of the South Pole, an effort to observe the heretofore unobservable.

And Billy Gawronski wants in.

The Polish teenager lives on the Lower East Side with his parents. He’s a first-generation American and a recent high school graduate with a gift for languages and a thirst for adventure. His father has his future planned out for him – joining him in the family upholstery and design business – but Billy wants something more.

So the night before Byrd’s ships are to head out to sea, Billy leaps into the Hudson River. A strong swimmer, he makes his way to one of the ships and ensconces himself in a hiding place he had spied during an earlier guided tour. And then … he waits.

What follows is a multi-year journey, one which sees Billy knocked down and disappointed, only to repeatedly rise to the occasion and eventually, through sheer grit and will, carve out a niche as part of one of the most notable adventures of the early 20th century.

Nearly a century removed from that adventure, it’s easy for us to forget just how harrowing a journey this was and how courageous those who took part in it were. These men spent months traveling to one of the harshest environs on the planet so that they might build a camp and live in icy darkness for months before actually having the opportunity to undertake the exploration that was at the heart of their mission.

Billy Gawronski was a part of it. It took repeated efforts and a willingness to take on any task, no matter how difficult and/or unpleasant, but he made himself a part of this expedition. And along the way, he became a media celebrity – the story of the stowaway made good became huge in the New York newspapers (a fact that was not lost on Byrd, who understood that the mission was powered in no small part by publicity).

“The Stowaway” captures the freewheeling wildness of the time, placing Byrd’s mission in the greater context of the era while also focusing on the adventures (and occasional misadventures) of Billy Gawronski. It’s a wonderful macro/micro examination – sharp and informative.

There’s no question that this is an adventure story for the ages, the kind of truth that is stranger than fiction. Shapiro embraces the challenges inherent to the outsized true-life narrative, bringing a storytelling flair to the proceedings that makes the book easily-devoured and entertaining as hell. She brings Billy to life, painting a vivid portrait of a mostly-forgotten figure who was a legitimate folk hero in his time.

Most of us have an at least passing familiarity with Admiral Byrd and his adventures, but so many of the people around him – the people who made his accomplishments possible – have faded into the background of history. Billy Gawronski wasn’t a pilot or a scientist or anything of the sort, but he was, for a time, one of the most famous members of the Antarctic expedition. That’s not nothing, and we’re lucky to have someone like Shapiro to relate his story to us in such a propulsive and compulsively readable fashion.

“The Stowaway” brings history to life in the manner of the very best nonfiction. It is a compelling tale well-told, introducing us to a headstrong and courageous young man that we might never have met otherwise. And that would have been a real shame.
Was this review helpful?
I finally finished reading this book a couple of days. It took me almost a month to get through it. (I might have taken a break from it for a few days.) The story behind this book is that the author Laurie Gwen Shapiro discovered the name William "Billy" Gawronski-or as it was often misspelled, Gavronski-in records related to the Antarctic expedition in 1928. This book is the result of all the research she did. When I read the description of the book I actually thought it was a fictional character set in real historic times, places and events. I was so surprised to learn that it was really a biography! I thought the historic facts of Billy's story were interesting and I'm glad I took time to read about it. I think Shapiro does a great job of envisioning Billy's feelings and motivations behind his actions but her writing styles seem a little conflicting. I felt as if she could not decide whether to write a biography or a novel based on true events. Since she decided to do both the book was very long with pages that seemed to drag with words that tried to illustrate every basic detail in a storytelling style instead of being straightforward. Because of the inconsistencies in her writing I give the book 2.5 out of 5. I do recommend this book for any history buffs (maybe you will be able to concentrate on such a lengthy book better than I could). Whoever chooses to read it will be sure to discover a lost gem of history.
Was this review helpful?
Absolutely fascinating story and well written. I often lose attention during non-fiction, but was engaged throughout this book. I will be recommending it to lots of people I know.
Was this review helpful?
I received a free Kindle copy of The Stowaway by Laurie Gwen Shaprio courtesy of Net Galley and Simon and Shuster, the publisher. It was with the understanding that I would post a review to Net Galley, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes and Noble and my nonfiction book review blog. I also posted it to my Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Google Plus pages.

I requested this book as I the subject of the book sounded interesting. This is the first book by Laurie Gwen Shapiro that I have read.

While the subtitle of the book, "A Young Man's Extraordinary Adventure to Antarctica", gives an overview of the contents, it covers more than that. The main focus is on William "Billy"Garowski who made three attempts to be a stowaway on Robert Byrd's first expedition to the South Pole to be the first one to fly over the pole. The book itself is well written and a fairly quick read. It covers his highlights and disappointmets on the voyage. While the focus is on Bill, it also details some additional stowaways who were not successful and also covers Billy's life after returning from the expedition.

I recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in learning about some of the lesser known crew involved in this adventure to the South Pole.
Was this review helpful?
❄️ 4 adventurous, Antarctic stars to The Stowaway ❄️ 

I enjoy reading nonfiction, and it’s a delight when I read nonfiction that feels like fiction. I would say this particular book feels mostly like fiction, but it is a bit on the detailed side. This worked perfectly for me, but I wanted to mention it for fiction fans who might be considering this book. 

What fascinated me from the start is I was yet again reading about the 1920s in the United States! I’ve read several books lately set during that interesting time. Billy Gawronski was a captivating figure. How exactly does an 18 year old manage to be a stowaway on one of the most famous expeditions? What will his parents think? Wait until you read the story of his endearing parents. 

Admiral Byrd, the leader of the expedition, was another absorbing character, as were the other captains of the ships. Also covered were past expeditions by Byrd and others, as well as the controversy surrounding them (i.e., did they really go to these places, or did they lie about their coordinates for the fame?). 

Polish culture, the struggles of the time for different races, the Great Depression, and many other important issues were covered revealing the context of what was happening around Billy. 

Billy was intelligent, resourceful, and persistent in making his enormous dream come true, and I absolutely loved him; however, his second wife and their story 💕 ended up stealing the show for me towards the end of the book. The Author’s Note that ties into that story is not to be missed!

These days, instead of giant multi-ship expeditions, people take cruises to Antarctica. I admit I’ve thought about it. We love a cruise and a big adventure. 🚢 Luckily, there’s still much about Antarctica that’s left untouched and undiscovered. That’s special and so is this book. The Stowaway met my expectations for a thrilling adventure!

Thank you to Laurie Gwen Shapiro, Simon Schuster, and Netgalley for the complimentary ARC to review. 

The Stowaway will be published on January 16, 2018.
Was this review helpful?
Billy stayed awake hours into the night, guessing the right moment to jump off the pier

In THE STOWAWAY, author Laurie Gwen Shapiro tells the incredible story of determined stowaway Billy Gawronski, who actually made it all the way to Antarctica. Billy didn’t really have much of a plan--he would just appeal to the mercy of Commander Byrd, who reportedly, “liked stowaways.”  

For his first attempt, Billy swam to the ship “covered in river scum, hair hanging down his forehead like oily kelp.”  To his astonishment, Billy found that he was one of three stowaways!  

On his second attempt, Billy tried for a cargo ship, believing it would  be “less guarded than the flagship had been.” He was quickly discovered hiding in a paint locker.

Well, Billy was discovered hiding three separate times. Each time, he failed to even bring spare clothing: “You would think that the boy had learned from his previous stowaway attempt to bring more food or a change of dry clothes. Not the case.”

In spite of his clumsy hiding attempts, Billy was actually given a lowly job as a “mess boy.” Commander Byrd later approved:  “A lad as persistent as you will always come out on top.”  Billy’s dream had come true, and he sailed away on the “Eleanor Bolling.”

Amazingly, Billy soon became famous, and newspapers shouted, “STOWAWAY FOUND IN HOLD!”  On his return from Antarctica, Billy gave a talk on New York’s WOR Radio, was feted at banquets, was given a silver medal, and was a guest at the White House!

The fame soon wore off, and Billy had he became a ship captain in the Merchant Marines. After Pearl Harbor, Billy served on Liberty ships, and became a captain at age 32.  He continued working for many years in the Merchant Marines, as well as the US Military Sealift Command.

At the very end of the book, the author recounts her research efforts.  Trying to find Billy’s family, she called many families with the same last name. Finally, she reached an elderly woman in Maine. It turned out to be Billy’s widow: “The frail voice said, ‘That boy was my husband.’”  Billy had died years earlier, but his widow was eager to share his story.

All in all, I found THE STOWAWAY to be a fascinating, fun read. History buffs will especially like the interesting tidbits about Byrd’s expeditions.  I thought the first stowaway attempt was the most interesting.

Advance Review Copy courtesy of the publisher.
Was this review helpful?
This well-researched adventure tale reads like a “Boy’s Own” story.  Billy Gawronski, a skinny New York Pole just graduated from high school, makes an almost desperate grab for a life of adventure by stowing away on Byrd’s first Antarctic expedition.  

Shapiro didn’t meet Gawronski, but she met his widow and sons, and did an immense amount of reading and traveling to write this book.  That research shows in the vivid stories of life on ship and in the Antarctic.  An engrossing read.
Was this review helpful?
This is the story of seventeen-year-old Billy Gawronksi, a stowaway (after a few attempts) on the ship Eleanor Bolling that followed Admiral Richard Byrd’s flagship to Antarctica. In the late 1920s, Byrd-mania had swept through America, igniting the imaginations of youth in New York City where his ships were docked before his grand polar adventure. Young Billy was not going to fall victim to a sad existence of life working in his father’s upholstery business. He was going to have a life of adventure, and nobody was going to thwart him. Billy’s chutzpah was without parallel, and his derring-do earned him a spot on the unknown continent.

Shapiro provides enough biographical information to make Billy’s motivations relevant and sympathetic without bogging down her reader with extraneous details. Billy’s story, along with those of other historical characters on Byrd’s first Antarctic expedition, is set against the backdrop of the Jazz Age in between the World Wars. Shapiro weaves in the significance of the Great Depression, the nationalistic pride in America’s heroes, and the onset of WWII on Billy’s decisions and career. Shapiro also doesn’t shy away from including the blatant racism and prejudice that affected Billy’s tenure, among other wannabe adventurers on Byrd’s expedition. Her perseverance in uncovering the details and admirable life story of this unknown boy-explorer is evident in the comprehensive story she presents to her readers. 

The Stowaway filled a lot of gaps in my knowledge of American polar exploration. The stories of the lesser-known idealistic adventure-seekers who accompanied Byrd to Antarctica provided an interesting perspective of the polar-fever that had captured Americans during the beginning of the 20th century. 

This book will appeal to many different readers: those interested in Polar exploration will, of course, love Billy’s tale, but anyone with a passing interest in early 20th century American history, particularly the immigrant experience, will find a great story in this book as well. Highly recommended.

Many thanks to Netgalley and Simon & Schuster for this advance copy in exchange for my review.
Was this review helpful?
I really enjoyed this book on the exploration of Antarctica. I've read many books on polar exploration, and this book does something unique. It tells the tale, not only from the viewpoint of the expedition leader, but a minor player on the expedition as well. The book focuses on this stowaway, who gives his all to be part of Byrd's second expedition to Antarctica. This person was someone many could relate too, and hearing his story really helped me stay engaged in the story.

The Stowaway's story is paralleled by Byrd's story, but not in the typical fashion of exploration history text. Rather it focuses on the marketing and publicity around the expedition. 

Another layer to this book is the current history of the event, particularly the great depression, and prohibition and how they affected the expedition.

Don't skip the Author's Note at the end. How Laurie Gwen Shapiro came about the Stowaway's story is story all in itself (no spoilers!).
Was this review helpful?