In this grand and astonishing account, Alec Wilkinson brings us the story of S. A. Andrée, the visionary Swedish aeronaut who, in 1897, during the great age of Arctic endeavor, left to discover the North Pole by flying to it in a hydrogen balloon. Called by a British military officer “the most original and remarkable attempt ever made in Arctic exploration,” Andrée’s expedition was followed by nearly the entire world, and it made him an international legend.
The Ice Balloon begins in the late 19th century, when nations vied for the greatest discoveries and newspapers covered every journey. Wilkinson describes how in Andrée several contemporary themes intersected: He was the first modern explorer - the first to depart for the Arctic unencumbered by notions of the Romantic age and the first to be equipped with the newest technologies - but no explorer had ever left with more uncertainty regarding his fate, since none had ever flown over the horizon and into the forbidding region of ice.
Woven throughout is Andrée’s own history and how he came by his brave and singular idea. We also get to know Andrée’s family, the woman who loved him, and the two men who accompanied him - Nils Strindberg, a cousin of the famous playwright, with a tender love affair of his own, and Knut Fraenkel, a willing and hearty young man.
Andrée’s flight and the journey - based on the expedition’s diaries and photographs, which were dramatically recovered thirty-three years after the balloon came down - along with Wilkinson’s research, provide a book filled with suspense and adventure, a haunting story of high ambition and courage made tangible with the detail, beauty, and devastating conditions of traveling and dwelling in “the realm of Death”, as one Arctic explorer put it.
Alec Wilkinson began writing for the New Yorker in 1980. Previously he was a policeman in Massachusetts and before that a rock-and-roll musician. He has published nine other books and articles. His honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Lyndhurst Prize, and the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award.
©2012 Alec Wilkinson (P)2012 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
“Wilkinson…writes with insight and flair, artfully interleaving Andrée’s story with a brief history of Arctic exploration.… [His] prose style suits the spare polar landscape, making his occasional poetic touches even more effective.… And Wilkinson doesn’t get bogged down in too much detail. He understands that the value of polar stories isn’t to be found in guy ropes and provisions. It lies elsewhere, in our endless love of discovery and the drama of being human.” (New York Times Book Review)
“A writer known for discerning portraiture, 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…[A] fine addition to the annals of polar exploration.” (Booklist)
“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’.…Beautifully focused and controlled.” (Kirkus Reviews)
Business Physicist and Astronomer
I enjoyed this because it covers an event not commonly known in the U.S. The subject was interesting and I learned a lot.
I think a little more could have been included about ballooning in general and perhaps a bit on modern day, long trip, ballooning.
Still, an interesting story told well.
If you like adventure history or quirky history, you'll like this book. It is a little confusing in the middle and they establish camp---I wasn't sure what was happening and had to go back a few times to put pieces together. That's okay but it was a little bumpy so I give 4 stars.
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