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Item #: PL116-239
NANSEN: THE EXPORER AS HERO Roland Huntford 2001 Paperback Fine
By Huntford, Roland
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London, Abacus, 2001 [1997]. 750 pp, b/w photos. Paperback. Fine.

Behind the great polar explorers of the early twentieth century — Amundsen, Shackleton, Scott in the South, and Peary in the North — looms the spirit of Fridtjof Nansen (1861–1930), the father of modern polar exploration. Roland Huntford’s remarkable biography draws on a wealth of new material, including diaries and hitherto untapped documents. It uncovers a restless, Faustian spirit, a Renaissance man born out of his time, a pioneer in oceanography and skiing, one of the founders of neurology, an artist, historian, and diplomat. Above all, Nansen illustrates Carlyle’s dictum that 'the history of the world is but the biography of great men."

The index for Roland Huntford's biography of polar explorer Fridtjof Nansen lists the following subcategories under Nansen's name: 'academic career,' 'skiing pioneer,' 'explorer and innovator in polar equipment,' 'pioneering oceanographer,' 'Norwegian statesman,' and 'women: attractiveness to.' Not a bad summary of Nansen's life, really. Fridtjof Nansen packed a lot of experiences into his 68-year lifetime, and Huntford explores them all in Nansen: The Explorer as Hero.

It's not surprising, however, that the heart of this book is the Fram expedition, Nansen's three-year attempt to reach the North Pole. Though Nansen failed, turning back some 200 miles before reaching it, he did get 146 miles farther north than had ever been reached before and was celebrated as a hero upon his return to Norway. He turned this celebrity into political power, embarking on a diplomatic career and pressing for Norwegian independence. Along the way, Nansen engaged in a number of romantic intrigues (including an alleged affair with the wife of his polar rival, Robert Scott), helped popularize skiing, developed the neuron theory, and won a Nobel Peace Prize.

Nansen's life should make for excellent reading; Nansen, however, is less than engagingly written. Huntford's prose is frigid at times, but frequent quotations from Nansen's own letters, journals, and published works allow Nansen's voice--and his remarkable life--to shine through.


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