A look at the Pole and, not incidentally, global warming, through the eyes of the author, the scientists and enthusiasts she interviews, and the journals of Victorian-era polar explorer Fridtjof Nansen.
As if to defy the legions of pioneering explorers determined to conquer it, the North Pole is, in fact, an icy sea. In 2002, author Brown journeyed to this non-place aboard the Russian nuclear vessel Yamal, a specially designed "ice breaker" capable of creating a route through the permanently frozen crust of the northernmost latitudes. In each chapter, Brown offers scenes from the voyage: seeing a polar bear, breaking the ice, watching the numbers on the GPS as they come ever closer to 90 degrees. Despite the exotic location, the voyage was essentially a tourist trip, a mostly safe adventure for polar dreamers. Then, switching gears, the author presents selections from Nansen's Farthest North, the journals of the explorer's expedition, originally published in 1897. Nansen is a gifted writer, and the log of his time on the Pole, the brutal conditions, and his relationship with his companion and his dogs, are transportive and gain even more punch when contrasted with Brown's descriptions of the luxuries of the Yamal's nuclear power (long, hot showers, for example). The third element here is comprised of interviews with the people Brown encountered on her trip and experts in the field of polar research. Many of these discussions focus on global warming, specifically its undeniability and complexity. There is also plenty of information about the indigenous people, wildlife, polar history, and daily life today in the northernmost human settlements. Equally fascinating and evocative are Brown's many photos of the land, ice and sea.
Lyrical and practical by turns, an apt portrait of a haunting landscape along with an ample variety of scientific views on the climate and ecology.