By Stephen Bown
Da Capo Press , $26.00, 343 pages

A biography has to be seen in three parts: the subject, the author, and the book itself. Each has a measure of importance. The subject takes priority, otherwise, why pick up the book? The author, whether known or unfamiliar, invites our attention. The book affirms our interest or closes the door. On no count does The Last Viking disappoint.

Roald Amundsen’s exploration remains compelling, despite the shortage of supplementary characters and the oppressive cold that filters through the pages. He spent months, even years, preparing for adventures he could ready himself for now in just hours or days with a computer. But our admiration holds firm. The old-fashioned adjectives allow us to admire him still: his steadfastness, patience, resolve, his unwavering leadership. He strove to honor Norway’s new independence, to find money as the age of patronage was replaced by institutional giving.

Stephen R. Bown is a terrific writer, never sensational, always seeming to share the achievements of a friend. His discretion about Amundsen’s personal life leaves us with an endearing, enigmatic hero.

The only flaw? Inadequate maps.

Reviewed By Jane Manaster

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