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The Magnetic North: Notes from the Arctic…
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The Magnetic North: Notes from the Arctic Circle

by Sara Wheeler

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Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
Wonderful grab bag. More like a set of essays held together by the arctic theme than a coherent tome, it includes intrepid heroes dying young, lit crit of scarcely known authors, a critique of Stalinist and the gulag, Mussolini v. Nansen, the science of global warming and how the arctic is a magnet for pollution, meeting a polar bear when you can't handle a weapon and so on and on- all held together by Wheeler's wide reading, sharp intelligence and sense of both fun and tragedy. Most moving is the collapse of indigenous cultures; most disturbing the arrival of the big extraction industries.

i learned, amid much else, that "Greenhouse Effect" is a (slight) misnomer: greenhouses work by convected heat, the planet's problem is radiant heat. And that Sir John Franklin was a hen-pecked ass. ( )
1 vote vguy | May 10, 2013 |
Post's on fire today! This sounds good too. Also recommended is The Great White Bear, about polar bears.
  AlCracka | Apr 2, 2013 |
The Magnetic North by Sara Wheeler

Wheeler takes her readers places no one has been, places no one really wants to go except via books. This time, she guides us through the frozen north, the lands and waters north of the Arctic Circle. She's an ideal guide, one who seeks out all the coolest (in both senses of the word) spots and who finds all the best of the Arctic stories, and relates her tales with a delightfully literate vocabulary.
  debnance | Jul 18, 2011 |
best chapter is last, about Soviet Russia and the Arctic
  claudiaannett | Jun 14, 2011 |
Sara Wheeler has written travel books on Chile and Antarctica, among others, but this is the first of hers that I have read. The Magnetic North examines the territories that form the Arctic, starting in Asian Russia, and covering the USA, Canada, Greenland, Svalbard, Lapland, the Arctic Ocean itself, and ending up in European Russia. Wheeler compares the unsettled Antarctic with the populated Arctic and she recognises that it is necessary to examine the indigenous peoples of each area. Her focus is their treatment by the respective settlers and subsequent governments, most of which I had no idea about.
Wheeler covers issues such as climate change, oppression of cultures, territory squabbles and rivalries. She talks to scientists and local people and lives with them in order to experience the Arctic for herself, as well as quashing some popular myths. The book is quite information-heavy, which can make it rather dense prose, but this is relieved at intervals by anecdotes. The Arctic is a place that I would like to visit, but as a vegetarian, the life she experiences as she stays with the Arctic peoples isn’t one that I would be able to effectively participate in, even if I had the means to do so. For me, this lends her book an added depth, even if sometimes the descriptions of food sound rather unappetising.
She travels with her baby son on one part of the journey, and then with her elder son on another. This could invite a comparison with Where the Indus is young, where Dervla Murphy takes her daughter with her on her travels, but unfortunately that book is still sitting unread on my shelf, so that comparison will have to wait. However, Wheeler seems to experience fewer problems than Murphy while travelling on her own as a single woman. Perhaps this is due to the presence of her sons, or because of where she is travelling, or the fact that the people she meets are either scientists or people for whom independent women are not a strange concept. It could also be that times have simply moved on, and a woman travelling alone is no longer subject to the same stigma that Murphy and other female travellers experienced.
I would have appreciated captions for the images as sometimes it wasn’t clear what it was supposed to represent. Wheeler also has a tendency to break direct speech after the first two or three words, which leaves the rest of the sentence hanging. Its overuse meant that any dramatic effect that might have been intended was lost on me. However, despite these small quibbles, I enjoyed the book, and am likely to try out one of her others. ( )
  Tselja | Jan 7, 2011 |
Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
"At times Wheeler’s chronicle seems hobbled by a knitting together of accounts of many short trips made over several years; perhaps more time in the field and less in the library might have made for a silkier narrative. And occasionally it’s difficult to discern one set of shaggy scientists, heads cranked toward the permafrost, from the next. But these are quibbles: by and large, Wheeler’s sense of place, science, self and story is exceptional. "
added by lorax | editNew York Times, Holly Morris (Feb 6, 2011)
 
"What is the Arctic?" is a question Sara Wheeler sets out to answer. It's important we update our imaginations, and set aside the igloos, because whatever the Arctic is, "everyone wants what the Arctic has": land, oil and minerals...Though hasty in style, Wheeler's book teaches a lot about what is happening in the far north, which is valuable if, as she says, "the survival of civilisation as we know it hangs on what happens in the Arctic". Whether or not one wants such "civilisation" to survive is a moot point, given what this book discloses about its greed and its effects.
 
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Herds of reindeer move across ice and snow.
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Ten years after her bestselling book on the Antarctic, "Terra Incognita," Wheeler journeys to the opposite pole to take the measure of what is at once the most pristine place on Earth and the locus of global warming.

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