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

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Overview

The Arctic of towering icebergs and midnight sun, of flaming auroras and endless winter nights, has long provoked flights of the imagination. Now, in The Last Imaginary Place, renowned archeologist Robert McGhee lifts the veil to reveal the true Arctic world. Based on thirty years of work with native peoples of the Arctic and travel in the region, McGhee’s account dispels notions of the frozen land as an exotic, remote world that exists apart from civilization.

Between the frigid reality and lurid fantasy lies McGhee’s true interest, the people who throughout human history have called the Arctic home. He paints a vivid portrait of Viking farmers, entrepreneurial Inuit, and Western explorers who have been seduced by the natural wealth and haunting beauty of this land. From lively accounts of fur trading, ivory hunting, and whaling to white-knuckle tales of the first, doomed expeditions, McGhee takes the reader on a whirlwind journey across this disorienting, dreamlike terrain that has fascinated mankind for centuries.

“In prose infused by his position as curator of Arctic archaeology at the Canadian Museum of Civilization—which has taken him to sites in several countries—McGhee demolishes some persistent illusions about the white North . . . evocative.”—Times Literary Supplement

“[A] compelling account . . . [McGhee] believes that the Arctic is not so much a region as a dream—what he sees as a dream of a unique, attractive world . . . An archaeologist who has spent thirty years there, the author lets his love for the region shine through on every page.—Booklist

“McGhee displays the powerful attractions of the top of the world . . . [his] prose . . . sparkles like frost in the midnight sun.”—Financial Times

“McGhee has written a sensitive, fascinating and extremely important book.”—Canadian Geographic

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Editorial Reviews

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!"
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

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226500898
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 3/1/2007
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 296
  • Sales rank: 1,484,711
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert McGhee is curator of Arctic archaeology at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Ottawa and the author of numerous books, including Ancient People of the Arctic and The Arctic Voyages of Martin Frobisher.

 

 

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgements
Prelude: An Arctic Vision 

1 After the Ice Age
2 A Distant Paradise: The Arctic in Ancient Thought
3 A Hunter's World
4 In Arctic Siberia
5 Vikings and Arctic Farmers: The Norse Atlantic Saga
6 Inuit
7 Ice and Death on the Northeast Passage
8 Martin Frobisher's Gold Mines
9 The Rape of Spitsbergen
10 Bay of Tragedy
11 Frozen Glory
12 The People's Land
13 An Arctic Journey

    Useful References, Interesting Reading
    Index

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