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THE HOT ARCTIC by John Dyson



Pub Date: Feb. 19th, 1979
Publisher: Little, Brown

A multiple fix on the hot (inflammatory, overheated) Arctic that belies its gimmicky title. As a travel writer, Dyson conveys the feel of the Arctic: the deadly cold and the strange sense of disembodiment. Plus, centrally, the unromantic reality of native communities where white schoolteachers sport mukluks and beautifully embroidered ($300) parkas; where Eskimos born in igloos, sod houses, or skin tents now occupy many-windowed prefabs designed in Albuquerque with no respect for the Arctic climate; and where, because southern-style waste pipes would freeze, the ubiquitous orange plastic ""honey bag"" has replaced ""the traditional squat in the snow."" As a social reporter, Dyson effectively sets forth the plight of the Eskimo, educated away from the old ways but unprepared for new ones, dying of benevolence and denied opportunity or incentive to help himself. (Canadian policy--or lack of it--is seen as the most destructive to which Eskimos are subject; Greenlanders, by contrast, have their fishing industry and a considerable history of co-existence with the ruling Danes, while Alaskans have cash and some political muscle--despite being ""sold out and ripped off"" by the Native Claims Settlement.) Dyson is less sympathetic with environmentalists whose anti-development and anti-pipeline stance he deems ""emotional not scientific,"" and he also scores whites who would preserve a wilderness vacationland or who, acknowledging the failure of assimilation, now want to return the Eskimo to ""a basically false way of life"" on the land. As an analyst, though, Dyson is less convincing, and his wrap-up projection comes more as a statement of opinion than a logical conclusion: development is inevitable; oil is needed in the world at large; super-icebreakers will revolutionize transport in the 1980s; and the Eskimos, with jobs and oil-spawned small enterprise, can combine the best of the old with the best of the new. To be read, then, chiefly for Dyson's view of the Arctic today--which the numerous color and black-and-white photos extend.