N-4 Down: The Hunt for the Arctic Airship Italia – Mark Piesing

Published By: Mariner
Pages: 448
Released On: 13/10/2022

The riveting true story of the largest polar rescue mission in history: the desperate race to find the survivors of the glamorous Arctic airship Italia, which crashed near the North Pole in 1928.

During the Roaring Twenties, zeppelin travel embodied the exuberant spirit of the age. Germany’s luxurious Graf Zeppelin ran passenger service from Germany to Brazil; Britain’s Imperial Airship Scheme was launched to connect an empire; in America, the iconic spire of the rising Empire State Building was designed as a docking tower for airships.

But the new mode of transport offered something else, too: a new frontier of exploration. Whereas previous Arctic and Antarctic explorers had subjected themselves to horrific—often deadly—conditions in their attempts to reach uncharted lands, airships held out the possibility of speedily soaring over the hazards.

In 1926, the famed Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen—the first man to reach the South Pole—partnered with the Italian airship designer General Umberto Nobile to pioneer flight over the North Pole. As Mark Piesing reveals in this masterful account, while that mission was thought of as a great success, it was in fact riddled with near-disasters and political pitfalls.

In May 1928, his relationship with Amundsen corroded beyond the point of collaboration, Nobile, his dog, and a crew of fourteen Italians, one Swede, and one Czech, set off on their own in the airship Italia—code-named N-4—to discover new lands in the Arctic Circle and to become the first airship to land men on the pole. Near the North Pole they hit a terrible storm and crashed on to the ice. Six crew members were never seen again; the injured (including Nobile) took refuge on ice flows, unprepared for the wretched conditions and with little hope for survival.

Coincidentally, in Oslo a gathering of famous Arctic explorers had assembled for a celebration of the first successful flight from Alaska to Norway. Hearing of the accident, they (Amundsen among them) organized the largest international polar rescue expedition in history. As the weeks passed, the survivors engaged in a last-ditch struggle against weather, polar bears and despair. When they were spotted at last, the search plane landed—but the pilot announced that there was only room for one passenger…

Braiding together the gripping accounts of the survivors and their heroic rescuers, N-4 Down tells the unforgettable true story of what happened when the glamor and restless daring of the zeppelin age collided with the harsh reality of Earth’s extremes. 


Thank you to Literally PR and Mariner for the gifted copy of this title and a spot on the book tour in return for an honest review.

I’ve not read any polar exploration books before so the format is completely new to me, but I felt it was a good one to start with.

I knew absolutely nothing about the Arctic Airship Italia, or anything about the people involved in it. It fascinates me that something of this scale – granted it happened almost 100 years ago – an go so unnoticed by history. I could guarantee that no-one I asked would know about it, no matter their ages, so it’s really interesting to see it given so much care and attention.

It was really interesting to read about the Italians during this age. I have been to Italy and love it, but it’s definitely not the same place it was in 1928, so that gave me a nice contrast between then and now.

Mark Piesing has clearly done his research and you can see how passionate he is about airship travel as a whole.

There’s a good, small collection of photographs in the middle of the book. I think pictures can really help give context to a non-fiction book, particularly if it’s a topic, like I said, that isn’t known by the masses.

There is some technical language and industry language that I admit went over my head, and some areas where it was a bit complex for me, but I didn’t think it hindered the reading or the understanding of the book much. But I’m also glad he didn’t “dumb down” the text to suit those uneducated.

Whilst I’ve read a fair bit of non-fiction, I’ve always found them interesting and entertaining, I’ve not found many to be as engaging as the fiction I read, but this was definitely getting close to what I expect from a book. It is exciting to read, fascinating to learn about, and hard to stop reading once you’re absorbed.

I did feel it could have been improved by taking another look at the pacing. Some parts feel really energetic and exciting and fast, and others feel a bit like a slog to get through, and that’s not due to poor content, but potentially poor editing. However I have seen some other reviews that praise the pace so it’s definitely an individual preference.

I think it would appeal to a lot of people; those with interest in aviation history, keen explorers, lovers of Italian history, those interested in the North/South Pole adventures, and those, like me, who have no real interest in any of these things, but just enjoy a good book, of which this most certainly is.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: