The Ice Balloon: S.A. Andr%C3%A9e and the Heroic Age of Arctic Exploration %E2%80%A8

Alec Wilkinson, Author
Alec Wilkinson. Knopf, $25.95 (256pgs) ISBN 978-0-307-59480-8
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A reporter for The New Yorker since 1980, Wilkinson (The Protest Singer) recounts Swede S. A. Andrée's failed 1897 bid for the North Pole via hydrogen balloon (dubbed Örnen, or The Eagle) in this epic tale of adventure. Toward the end of the 19th century, global discovery was still a novelty, and though Andrée was one of many "thrill seekers…romantics…[and] visionary dreamers," his mode of transport set him apart. Relying on Andrée's journal—discovered by a Norwegian sloop in 1930 along with Andrée's remains on a remote Arctic island—and extensive research, Wilkinson's anecdotal narrative is captivating, and he deftly conjures images of forbidding ice-white landscapes. A portrait not only of a man, but of an age, the book is packed with technological, geographic, cultural, and scientific tidbits. Andrée comes across as forward-thinking and cavalier, as well as disciplined and rational. However, Andrée's motives and reputation were, and still are, hotly debated—was he, as Urban Wrakberg sought to disprove, an "isolated dreamer out of touch with the real polar science and technology of his period," or a pioneer and catalyst for more than a century of discovery? Regardless, Wilkinson's book is a thrilling account of a remarkable man and, in the words of Alexis Machuron—a witness to Andrée and Örnen's departure—his daring exploration of "the sea, the ice-field and the Unknown!" Photos and maps. (Jan.)
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