The Magnetic North: Notes from the Arctic Circle

Sara Wheeler, Author
Sara Wheeler, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, $26 (368p) ISBN 978-0-374-20013-8
Reviewed on: 11/29/2010
Release date: 02/01/2011
In her previous book, on Antarctica (Terra Incognita), Wheeler dismissively labeled the Arctic Circle as "the complicated, life-infested North." She changed her stance in 2002, following a trip during which she towed her infant son on a sled while traveling with the Sámi reindeer herders in the Arctic Circle. Readers are whisked away on an incredible, multifaceted tour of a region still unknown and mysterious. Her journeys, spread over a two-year period, begin in Siberia, nine time zones east of Moscow, in a region closed to foreigners and where there is no soil for anything to grow in a quarter of a million square miles. Traveling in a clockwise direction Wheeler's circuit includes Alaska; Canada; Greenland; Spitsbergen, Norway; Lapland; and back to the White Sea in Russia, weaving together fantastic stories of the North all the while. Wheeler admits this isn't a comprehensive history, but that makes little difference. This fact-filled narrative is nearly impossible to put down. Her theme is heroic individual struggle, such as pioneering polar aviation, heroism of the Norwegian resistance during WWII, and life in the Soviet gulag. By chronicling what the Arctic tells us about our past, Wheeler vividly reveals what it tells us about our collective future. (Feb.)
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