Canadian author Bown (The Last Viking: The Life of Roald Amundsen, 2012, etc.) fashions a thorough, insightful biography of the fearless explorer and noted writer Knud Rasmussen (1879-1933).
Rasmussen translated his love of his native Greenland into painstaking chronicles of the Inuit culture gleaned over three decades of arduous, groundbreaking exploration. His extraordinary upbringing played a significant role in his remarkable ability to infiltrate the Inuit tribes and become a trusted scribe among them. The son of a Danish missionary who made “herculean dogsled expeditions to the farthest regions of his sprawling parsonage,” Rasmussen learned early on the local Greenlandic language (his mother’s heritage) and a love of hunting and bobsled culture. After being sent to school in Copenhagen and deciding he was not going to be an actor, he hit on journalistic writing as a profession. He made an initial inspirational trip to Lapland to chronicle the culture of the Sami people, developing the themes that would obsess him the rest of his life—namely, the vanishing of the traditional old ways “to the juggernaut of modernity,” where “tradition and myth were replaced with the soullessness of the market economy.” Beginning with the Danish Literary Expedition across northern Greenland (1903-1904), which yielded the wildly popular work People of the Polar North, Rasmussen and his trusty companion Peter Freuchen would embark over the next decades on numerous Thule Expeditions, taking them far into the recesses of Inuit tribes and producing extensive and significant records of vanishing worlds. Bown emphasizes the sheer vitality and charisma of Rasmussen, who shared his celebrity spotlight with the Inuit hunters, dog-sled drivers, and others who were key to the success of the expeditions.
A vivacious study that will surely revive interest in the writings of this towering explorer and ethnographer.