Monday, February 6, 2012

by Alec Wilkinson

For some reason, the North Pole has always been an enigma for explorers. Why anyone would want to venture to a place that is made up of solid ice, freeze in below zero temperatures, worry about whether you're going to survive or not (many died) doesn't sound so tempting to me.
Between the fifteenth century and the nineteenth century, 135 expeditions (mostly from Europe) went to the Arctic. They all thought that they would see what nobody else had seen.
S. A. Andree was a Swedish aeronaut who, in 1897, decided to do something completely different from the other adventurers. His idea was to fly to the North Pole in a hydrogen balloon. The planning would take two years. He would be accompanied by two young men. Newspapers all over the world wrote about his departure.
Andree figured that he would arrive at the pole in forty-three hours. Wishful thinking.
In The Ice Balloon Alec Wilkinson not only delves into what made Andree tick and his whole background but also writes about other Arctic explorations. These accounts give you an idea of why these men dared to go in the first place.
Wilkinson's prose is lovely. One chapter, in particular, just talked about all of the different names for types of ice. Some examples: Ice attached to the shore was land ice. Ice that didn't move with the tides was an ice foot. New ice was called young ice.
Throughout the book are black-and-white photographs of Andree, his balloon, the men who accompanied him and other explorations.
This is a great story by a terrific writer.