There was never a dull moment on the U.S. Exploring Expedition of 1838-42. Led by Lt. Charles Wilkes, the Ex. Ex. circled the globe and became the first to chart Antarctica, the Fiji Islands, the Columbia River, and Puget Sound. Along the way, they endured life-threatening conditions in polar ice fields, storms on the high seas, and a deadly battle with Fijian natives. Nautical expert Philbrick (''In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex'') also draws a penetrating psychological portrait of Wilkes, whose lack of seamanship and deep-seated insecurity transformed him into a vindictive tyrant who flogged crewmen for the slightest offense. All in all, a breathtaking account of one of history's greatest adventurers and crankiest bosses.