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The Ice Balloon: S. A. Andree and the Heroic Age of Arctic Explorationby Alec Wilkinson
Synopses & Reviews
In this grand and astonishing tale, 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 nineteenth century, when nations, compelled by vanity, commerce, and science, competed with one another 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. 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.
In addition to portraying the period, The Ice Balloon gives us a brief history of the exploration of the northern polar regions, both myth and fact, including detailed versions of the two record-setting expeditions just prior to Andrée’s—one led by U.S. Army lieutenant Adolphus Greely from Ellesmere Island; the other by Fridtjof Nansen, the Norwegian explorer who initially sought to reach the pole by embedding his ship in the pack ice and drifting toward it with the current.
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 loves him, and the two men who accompany 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, 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.
"A reporter for The New Yorker since 1980, Wilkinson (The Protest Singer) recounts Swede S. A. AndrÃ©e's failed 1897 bid for the North Pole via hydrogen balloon (dubbed Ã–rnen, or The Eagle) in this epic tale of adventure. Toward the end of the 19th century, global discovery was still a novelty, and though AndrÃ©e was one of many 'thrill seekers...romantics... visionary dreamers,' his mode of transport set him apart. Relying on AndrÃ©e's journal — discovered by a Norwegian sloop in 1930 along with AndrÃ©e'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. AndrÃ©e comes across as forward-thinking and cavalier, as well as disciplined and rational. However, AndrÃ©e'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 AndrÃ©e and Ã–rnen's departure — his daring exploration of 'the sea, the ice-field and the Unknown!' Photos and maps. (Jan.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
The thrilling story of the visionary Swedish explorer S. A. Andrée, who in 1897, at the height of the heroic age of Arctic endeavor, attempted to discover the North Pole by flying over it in a hydrogen balloon.
The book opens in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, when nations vied for the greatest discoveries of the planet's still unknown spaces, and newspapers followed every journey. It was also an age of scientific discovery, and Alec Wilkinson shows how these two cultural trends came together in the Swedish engineer S. A. Andrée, leading him to launch perhaps the most daring assault on the North Pole ever made. Andrée's flight and the journey afterward are 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 on the ice.
About the Author
ALEC WILKINSON began writing for The New Yorker in 1980. Before that, he was a policeman in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, and before that he was a rock-and-roll musician. He has published nine books, including The Happiest Man in the World and The Protest Singer (the latter about Pete Seeger). His honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Lyndhurst Prize, and a Robert F. Kennedy Book Award.
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