THE ICE BALLOON by Alec Wilkinson
THE ICE BALLOON
S.A. Andrée and the Heroic Age of Arctic Exploration
Published by Knopf January 25, 2012
“Alec Wilkinson’s writing is so flawless and engaging
that I’d read him on a packed subway at rush hour.”
“A fine addition to the annals of polar exploration.
“A writer known for discerning portraiture, Alec Wilkinson here probes the personality of Swedish explorer Salomon Andrée, who, along with two companions, disappeared in an 1897 attempt to discover the North Pole by balloon. Their remains were found three decades later on an island near Spitzbergen, and from their accompanying diaries, letters, and photographs, Wilkinson narrates their flight and ensuing retreat toward civilization.
“That story of intrepid struggle caps Wilkinson’s main interest in placing Andrée within the tradition of exploration of the Arctic and adventurers’ emotional responses to the icescapes. Unlike his contemporary, Fridtjof Nansen, an expressive explorer who in his writings exulted in the sublime scenery, Andrée, an engineer, was a reticent man of facts and figures, one who ‘comes to life a little resentfully, as if interrupted.’ Contemplating Andrée’s possible motivations—desire for fame and scientific achievement, intention to prove the balloon was a practical aircraft—Wilkinson concludes that the cautious Andrée became ‘as zealous and wild-eyed as any fanatic who went off toward the unfound places.’
“Wilkinson proves to be an evocative stylist and a solid historian.”
—Gilbert Taylor in a starred review for BOOKLIST
“Beautifully focused and controlled.
Wilkinson, ever elegant and thorough, fleshes out his account by delineating the previous expeditions of Greely and Nansen in order to get at the motivations in the minds of this ‘parade of fanatics heading for the deep places.”
S.A. Andrée’s balloon expedition to the arctic was an ambitious one, which encountered many problems. (Photo: Courtesy of the Grenna Museum, Sweden/The Swedish Society of Anthropology and Geography.)
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