"A house without books is like a room without windows." -Horace Mann

Friday, May 4, 2012

Farthest North

by Dr. Fridtjof Nansen

Well, this was one hefty book and it took me forever to finish it.  Not because it was all that large compared to other books I've read, but because it was simply some heavy reading.  Its the true story, told through journals, of a group of Norwegians who attempt to make it to the North Pole in 1893.  Although they do not succeed in making it all the way there, they got closer than anyone else had at the time and also fulfilled a number of other plans they had to test some theories about the Arctic region and discover all they could to help future explorations.  The first travel as far as they can by ship, purposely getting themselves locked in the ice so as to be taken along with the drift of the icebergs.  Then, when they have gone as far as they can that way, two of the leaders of the expedition set off on dogsleds to make it as far as they can in that manner.  The ship continues on, headed for home, and the men on the dogsleds make it 146 miles farther north than another else before they are forced to head for home.

I enjoyed the details of the preparation for the trip, especially the details (not that I got it all) about the ship and how it was built, as well as the things they brought with them.  Life on the ship seemed pretty easy going and it was fascinating to think of people back then being so at easy in the north pole, not worried at all about being stuck in the ice for a few winters straight.  It details exciting events such as whales, ice breaking up, and bear attacks.  The real story begins though, when the two men take off on sledges, an arduous journey that is truly amazing as they go over rough ice, sleep together in a soggy reindeer sleeping bag, have to eventually kill off their dogs to survive, and winter in a homemade igloo for months on end.  This part is where it really got me, when they talk of living in a small confined space, no bathing, where their clothes begin to rot, and begin to have to ration their food.  And of course, one cannot help but be excited when they finally make it back to "civilization" and see their first fellow human in over a year.

However, as much as this story is interesting, there is a lot that bogs the reader down.  The journals of Dr. Nansen were not written to be entertaining or a "good read".  They were written to log events and scientific discovery.  Much of what is detailed is just that - details that are of not interest to me particularly.  And much of it is repetitive and mundane, because of the nature of the journey.  Traveling across polar ice is not the most exciting of adventures on a detailed daily level.  Curiously, I stuck with this book at times because of the nature of the story.  Every time I got bogged down, I felt myself feeling like if I gave up on these guys, they'd never make it home.  I felt like my reading this book was at times like their story, some exciting but much of it a little tiring.  For some reason I felt it would do the story an injustice if I didn't see it through to the end.  And I am glad I did.

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