The late, great George Plimpton unknowingly provided the idea for this book when he casually mentioned at a cocktail party in New York City that someone should look into how “the good Dr. Cook” had been “cheated” out of his claim to being the first at the North Pole. My literary agent, Paul Bresnick, happened to be at the same cocktail party, and reported Plimpton’s comments to me. At that time, I had never heard of Dr. Cook. After some initial research, I came to believe that Plimpton was on to something. A book proposal led to a publishing deal, and I then spent two years conducting research at various archives around the country, then writing True North.
What I came away with is the fact that history isn’t always portrayed accurately. History books and encyclopedias have long said that Robert Peary discovered the North Pole in 1909. But guess what? The claim of Frederick Cook to have gotten there a year before Peary is every bit as strong, and in some ways stronger, because Cook was the first to come out with original descriptions of the pole before Peary would release his own descriptions. And this was at a time when people didn’t know if there was land up there or even a lost civilization. Back then, many more people initially believed that Cook was the discoverer of the North Pole, but his support was eroded in the face of an orchestrated campaign waged by Peary. Still, Cook described the pole in a way that was verified by all the people who came after him. So, just because it’s reported to be history doesn’t always make it right.