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July 17, 1994|CHARLES SOLOMON

ACROSS THE TOP OF THE WORLD: To the North Pole by Sled, Balloon, Airplane and Nuclear Ice Breaker by David E. Fisher (Delta: $11.95; 305 pp., illustrated). In 1991, Fisher sailed to the North Pole on the Sovetskiy Soyuz, a nuclear ice breaker designed to serve as a luxury liner although most of its promised amenities proved illusory. His account of the hard-drinking, often comic boreal voyage provides an agreeable sugar coating for an overview of the attempts to reach that dubious landmark. Most of the narrative focuses on the conflicting claims of Frederick Cook and Robert Peary, neither of whom actually reached the North Pole--despite the honors Peary received. The Pole itself proves anticlimactic: It's just a bitterly cold chunk of floating ice.

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