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

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

Alec Wilkinson. Knopf, $25.95 (256pgs) ISBN 978-0-307-59480-8

A reporter for The New Yorker since 1980, Wilkinson (The Protest Singer) recounts Swede S. A. Andr%C3%A9e's failed 1897 bid for the North Pole via hydrogen balloon (dubbed %C3%96rnen, or The Eagle) in this epic tale of adventure. Toward the end of the 19th century, global discovery was still a novelty, and though Andr%C3%A9e was one of many "thrill seekers%E2%80%A6romantics%E2%80%A6[and] visionary dreamers," his mode of transport set him apart. Relying on Andr%C3%A9e's journal%E2%80%94discovered by a Norwegian sloop in 1930 along with Andr%C3%A9e's remains on a remote Arctic island%E2%80%94and 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. Andr%C3%A9e comes across as forward-thinking and cavalier, as well as disciplined and rational. However, Andr%C3%A9e's motives and reputation were, and still are, hotly debated%E2%80%94was 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%E2%80%94a witness to Andr%C3%A9e and %C3%96rnen's departure%E2%80%94his daring exploration of "the sea, the ice-field and the Unknown!" Photos and maps. (Jan.)