The Last Imaginary Place: A Human History of the Arctic World

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Overview


Sea ice and the midnight sun, flaming aurora and endless winter night--the arctic of traveler's tales and romantic novels is the unattainable dream of a vast and desolate world--the last imaginary place on Earth.
Now, in this fascinating volume, renowned archeologist Robert McGhee lifts the veil to reveal the true Arctic. Combining anthropology, history, and personal memoir, this book dispels romanticized notions of the Arctic as a world apart, exotic and isolated, revealing a land far more fascinating than we had imagined. McGhee paints a vivid portrait of the movement of Viking farmers across the North Atlantic islands, and of the long and arduous searches for sea-passages to Asia. We meet the fur-traders who pioneered European expansion across the northern forests of Canada and Siberia, the whalers and ivory-hunters who ravaged northern seas, and patriotic explorers racing to reach the North Pole. Most important, McGhee offers far more coverage of the native peoples of the Arctic, societies that other histories usually neglect. We discover how northerners have learned to exploit a rich "hunter's world" where game is, contrary to our expectations, far easier to find than in more temperate lands. McGhee takes us to a thousand-year-old Tuniit campsite perfectly preserved in the Arctic cold, follows the entrepreneurial Inuit as they cross the Arctic in search of metal, and reveals the dangers that native people face today from industrial pollution and global warming.
Flavored by McGhee's personal reflections based on thirty years of work and travel in the region, here is a wide ranging, enlightening look at one of the most culturally rich and fascinating areas of the world.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"What McGhee has accomplished in this enthralling book is both a canvas of our imaginary Arctic--the Ultima Thule and Gog and Magog "otherworld" in our literary heads--and a history of anthropology of the real thing, from shamanism to the Eddas to the Gulag Archipelago."--Harpers

"Compelling.... The author lets his love for the region shine through on every page.... He recounts life in Arctic Siberia, Vikings and Arctic farmers, life among the Inuit people, ice and death on the Northeast Passage, gold mining, and early exploration of Hudson Bay. He believes that the Arctic is not so much a region as a dream--what he sees as a dream of a unique attractive world, the last imaginary place on earth."--Booklist

"McGhee makes us care about this precious part of the world by putting color, flesh, diversity, and particularity back into a complex history and multifaceted human geography that has often been homogenized and generalized, removed from time and objectified. This is a beautiful book and a fine testimony to McGhee's expert and longstanding love of the Arctic."--Sherrill Grace, Professor of English at the University of British Columbia, and author of Canada and the Idea of North

"This is an important book by a prominent researcher and highly accomplished author who presents his global arctic view to readers here for the first time."--William Fitzhugh, Director, Arctic Studies Center, Smithsonian Institution

"The Last Imaginary Place is very well written and built on a lifetime of outstanding research. It succeeds in communicating some of the wonders of the Arctic and its extraordinary human history, while making the choices and challenges people have faced familiar and recognizable." --Susan Kaplan, Director, Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum & Arctic Studies Center, Bowdoin College

Harper's
What McGhee has accomplished in this enthralling book is both a canvas of our imaginary Arctic . . . and a history and anthropology of the real thing. . . . We meet heroism, stupidity, greed, smallpox, and Christianity, not to mention a dead narwhal mistaken for a unicorn.”

— John Leonard

H-Canada
This mix of the anecdotal observation and scholarly argument places McGhee's book comfortably on the boundary between academic and popular history, a beautifully written and well-illustrated volume that is at once informative, entertaining, and difficult to put down. . . . McGhee's work will be of intense interest to students and researchers in the field of northern history, or to the general reader wanting to know more about such topics as Arctic exploration, northern indigenous people, or the Norse colonization of Greenland and North America. . . . A brave and path breaking attempt to situate the Arctic within the broader field of world history, it is also a finely written homage to the people who have inhabited and explored the circumpolar world for centuries.

— John Sandlos

2004 Clio Award

Award on northern Canadian history

— Canadian Historical Assocaition

Midwest Book Review
Superbly written. . . . 'The Last Imaginary Place' is filled with fascinating accounts of fur trading, ivory hunting, native whaling, doomed exploration efforts, and the disorienting terrain that has beguiled and imperiled Europeans from the time of their first access to this remote region. . . . 'The Last Imaginary Place' is as informed and informative as it is engaging and entertaining!

— Able Greenspan

Harper's - John Leonard

“What McGhee has accomplished in this enthralling book is both a canvas of our imaginary Arctic . . . and a history and anthropology of the real thing. . . . We meet heroism, stupidity, greed, smallpox, and Christianity, not to mention a dead narwhal mistaken for a unicorn.”
H-Canada - John Sandlos

"This mix of the anecdotal observation and scholarly argument places McGhee's book comfortably on the boundary between academic and popular history, a beautifully written and well-illustrated volume that is at once informative, entertaining, and difficult to put down. . . . McGhee's work will be of intense interest to students and researchers in the field of northern history, or to the general reader wanting to know more about such topics as Arctic exploration, northern indigenous people, or the Norse colonization of Greenland and North America. . . . A brave and path breaking attempt to situate the Arctic within the broader field of world history, it is also a finely written homage to the people who have inhabited and explored the circumpolar world for centuries."
2004 Clio Award - Canadian Historical Assocaition

Award on northern Canadian history
Midwest Book Review - Able Greenspan

"Superbly written. . . . 'The Last Imaginary Place' is filled with fascinating accounts of fur trading, ivory hunting, native whaling, doomed exploration efforts, and the disorienting terrain that has beguiled and imperiled Europeans from the time of their first access to this remote region. . . . 'The Last Imaginary Place' is as informed and informative as it is engaging and entertaining!"
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195183689
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 5/15/2005
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.44 (h) x 1.09 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert McGhee is the Curator of Arctic Archeology at the Canadian Museum of Civilization. An archeologist who has conducted over thirty years of research on the ancient peoples of the Arctic, he was awarded the 2000 Massey Medal of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, Canada's highest award for excellence in the geographical sciences. He lives in near Ontario, Canada.

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Table of Contents

Prelude : an Arctic vision 7
1 After the Ice Age 11
2 A distant paradise : the Arctic in ancient thought 20
3 A hunter's world 34
4 In Arctic Siberia 56
5 Vikings and Arctic farmers : the Norse Atlantic saga 74
6 Inuit 102
7 Ice and death on the Northeast Passage 130
8 Martin Frobisher's gold mines 153
9 The rape of Spitsbergen 173
10 Bay of tragedy 190
11 Frozen glory 216
12 The peoples' land 240
13 An Arctic journey 272
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