Polar Exploration Without a Ship
By Alec Wilkinson
Alfred A. Knopf, $25.95, 239 pages
The Ice Balloon is a welcome departure from standard books about polar exploration. Whereas one would usually read about an expedition’s time on board a ship followed by crossing ice on foot, Wilkinson tells the story of a Swedish team led by S.A. Andrée that attempted to reach the north pole, still unattained by man, in 1897 by balloon. Andrée was laughed at and criticized, his goal thought foolish by fellow explorers. We learn from the start that the expedition failed and all three members of the team perished in the Arctic, as their remains were discovered in 1930.
Wilkinson discusses other Arctic expeditions, one in great detail, which gives the reader good comparison for when he tells the story of the Andrée’s attempt at polar discovery. He tells this story wonderfully, providing his own narrative intermingled with extracts from the diaries and journals of the explorers, both while aloft in the polar sky, and when the balloon failed, their arduous journey across the unforgiving Arctic ice pulling heavy sledges. Encountering polar bears, which they shot and ate, and struggling to cover distance against the slush of ice and snow, Andrée and his men became Swedish national heroes. The Ice Balloon places this small but important chapter of polar exploration on the shelf alongside Parry, Franklin, Scott, Shackleton, and Amundsen.
Reviewed By Michael Barton
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