The Last Viking: The Life of Roald Amundsen [NOOK Book]


The Last Viking unravels the life of the man who stands head and shoulders above all those who raced to map the last corners of the world. In 1900, the four great geographical mysteries—the Northwest Passage, the Northeast Passage, the South Pole, and the North Pole—remained blank spots on the globe. Within twenty years Roald Amundsen would claim all four prizes. Renowned for his determination and technical skills, both feared and beloved by his men, Amundsen is a legend of the heroic age of exploration, which ...
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The Last Viking: The Life of Roald Amundsen

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The Last Viking unravels the life of the man who stands head and shoulders above all those who raced to map the last corners of the world. In 1900, the four great geographical mysteries—the Northwest Passage, the Northeast Passage, the South Pole, and the North Pole—remained blank spots on the globe. Within twenty years Roald Amundsen would claim all four prizes. Renowned for his determination and technical skills, both feared and beloved by his men, Amundsen is a legend of the heroic age of exploration, which shortly thereafter would be tamed by technology, commerce, and publicity. Féted in his lifetime as an international celebrity, pursued by women and creditors, he died in the Arctic on a rescue mission for an inept rival explorer.

Stephen R. Bown has unearthed archival material to give Amundsen’s life the grim immediacy of Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s The Worst Journey in the World, the exciting detail of The Endurance, and the suspense of a Jon Krakauer tale. The Last Viking is both a thrilling literary biography and a cracking good story.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The discoverer of the South Pole and the first explorer to reach the North Pole, Amundsen's exploits entertained the world for decades during the early 20th century. But today he is arguably less well-known than his contemporary Ernest Shackleton, a situation that Bown aims to rectify with this captivating account of the Norwegian's extraordinary life. Amundsen's drive to witness the undiscovered began in childhood, when he would sleep with the windows open to acclimate to the cold and ski during snowstorms through the hills and mountains near Oslo to prepare for future harsh unknowns. He dropped out of university to acquire sailing experience and ultimately become a sea captain, enabling him to command his own ship. Amundsen treated his first expedition, the crossing of the Northwest Passage, like a military operation, an approach he'd employ in all of his adventures, anticipating nearly every possible complication or mishap. This painstaking method allowed him to prevail time and again— whether that involved keeping his crew alive while wintering for two years in the Arctic ice or beating better-financed competitors. Years later, he again surmounted huge obstacles, securing critical financing for a nearly aborted North Pole expedition and overcoming near bankruptcy, press hostility, and family feuding. Bown makes a compelling case that Amundsen deserves renewed recognition for his outstanding achievements. (Oct.)
From the Publisher

Long-listed for the BC National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction

One of the Toronto Globe & Mail’s Globe 100: The Globe’s Top Non-Fiction Books of the Year
Named to Kirkus Reviews’s “Best Books of 2012” list

Named a San Francisco Book Review Staff Pick for “Best Books of 2012

WinnipegFree Press, “Best of the Best” roundup, 12/22/12

Kirkus Reviews (starred), 8/15/12“An intensely researched, thoroughly enjoyable life of one history’s best explorers…A superb biography of a fiercely driven explorer who traveled across the last inaccessible areas on earth before technical advances made the journey much easier.”

Booklist, September 2012“[An] enjoyable, informative biography.”

Publishers Weekly, 8/27/12“[A] captivating account of the Norwegian’s extraordinary life…Bown makes a compelling case that Amundsen deserves renewed recognition for his outstanding achievements.”

London Sunday Times 9/16/12“[A] fascinating biography…As a depiction of an explorer’s life it is intelligent and often thrilling.”

BostonGlobe, 9/30/12“Author Stephen Bown hopes to repair Amundsen’s reputation and re-introduce his achievements to readers at a time when exploration on a grand geographic scale seems like ancient history. He succeeds; his Amundsen is complicated and compelling, capable of leading men through deadly danger and telling self-deprecating stories to rapturous lecture audiences later…The New York Times published hundreds of articles chronicling his voyages, and Bown gracefully weaves together these and other journalistic records, along with journals kept by Amundsen and his men, to paint a surprisingly intimate portrait of a complex, at times difficult, yet eminently admirable man.”
Post, 9/30/12“A deep, spine-chilling look at the life of Roald Amundsen, Norwegian polar explorer.”
Tucson Citizen
, 10/4/12
“An outstanding biography of a focused, determined man…Bown has served up a crisply written book that is exciting, meticulously researched, and an appropriate literary tribute to one of history’s greatest explorers.”
Bookviews blog, October 2012
“The story of a man who accomplished in two decades when other explorers of his day couldn’t do in a lifetime…The world needs heroes like Amundsen, warts and all.”,9/27/12“Details both the good and the bad about his extraordinary man.”, 10/18/12“Brown’s biography…breaks some new ground in detailing the explorer’s time spent in New York and the evidence of his sense of humor, which stands in contrast to the usual picture of him as cold, methodical and harsh.”
WinnipegFree Press, 10/6/12“Bown's tension-packed narrative recounts the illustrious career of the most accomplished polar explorer of all time.”, 10/25/12
“In a world where little is left to explore, Bown transports his readers to a time when great men battled nature to explore the earth’s last remaining terra incognita. As the winter months approach, readers would be well served to buy The Last Viking and curl up in front of a roaring fire to enjoy Bown’s gripping account of Amundsen’s epic polar adventures.”
, 10/26/12
“Bown draws on extensive research and access to the personal journals of Amundsen and his travel companions to paint rich and gripping accounts of his perilous voyages. These are often marvelously entertaining.”
Herald, 10/19/12“Sheds new light on the life and legend of Roald Amundsen.”

Wall Street Journal, 11/9/12“Mr. Bown has produced a solid, entertaining account of Amundsen's adventures, through which he scrolls with pleasing attention to detail. This is a real ‘Boy’s Own’ narrative, one that conjures the rasp of hickory ski on thin ice, the patter of a hundred dogs, and the whiff of tobacco after a long day on the trail. Mr. Bown is especially good on historical context.”
Sunday Star, 11/4/12“Bown’s research is impeccable and his writing lucid.”

San AntonioExpress-News, 11/11/12“A fascinating look into the life of the Norwegian explorer…Bown deftly captures the true essence of the man instead of merely paying homage to the legend…The Last Viking gives readers an in-depth look into what it was like to travel into some of the last unknown regions of the world without today's fancy gadgets or even the basics such as maps, local guides or reliable communication. Amundsen, perhaps the greatest polar explorer of all time, comes to life once again to ignite the spirit of exploration in all of us.”
Globe & Mail, 11/16/12“Bown writes from the lofty, distancing heights of the fair-minded historian…The work is sharp-eyed, thorough and convincing, and constitutes a significant addition to the Arctic canon.”

Daily Speculations blog, 11/27/12“[Bown] did his homework. The bibliography is basically every book out there, plus he did a lot of his own work in extensive newspaper story research (NYT–predominantly). There is a lot of controversy about this man and his methods–a lot of bias that Bown seems to navigate around. If you haven't read about polar exploration it's a good book to read since it relates the entire history of man's search for the final fabled lost lands or undiscovered sea lanes that would make trade travel quicker and cheaper…In this day of constant communication the book acts like an escape of sorts to a time when years would go by between shoving off on an expedition and returning.”
“Politics and Patriotism Show” (blog), 11/21/12
“An eye opening history of the larger-than-life Norwegian explorer…Intensely researched and passionately written.”
Literary Review of Canada
, October 2012
“A riveting tale of adventure, political intrigue and achievement…Exceptionally well researched and eminently readable…An important contribution to the historiography of polar exploration.”

Shepherd Express, 12/4/12“[A] full-bodied tale…The book provides detailed insights into the preparations and human elements involved in surveying arctic regions. Using actual diary entries from the Arctic expeditions to chilling effect, Bown makes the reader feel as though they have embarked on a journey through the world’s harshest climates and inhospitable lands…[Amundsen] lived a life suited for the pages of an adventure novel. Bown’s new biography reads as such.”
Book Review, December-February 2012“Bown is a terrific writer, never sensational, always seeming to share the achievements of a friend. His discretion about Amundsen’s personal life leaves us with an endearing, enigmatic hero.”
Bookworm Sez” syndicated column, 12/4/12“Armchair adventurers will love reading The Last Viking.”
“The Homestretch” on CBC Radio, 11/26/12
“Reveals the private side of a man whose exploits made him a household name in the early 20th century.”

Sacramento Book Review/San Francisco Book Review, 12/7/12
“Stephen Brown makes Amundsen feel real, not just a part of history. Brown’s stories are well-researched and it shows in the book. It is really detailed and covers many different aspects of Amundsen’s life…The pace of the book was excellent and every part is filled with suspense…This is a great book for anyone, especially if you want to relive the moments of an unexplored Earth.”

Reference and Research Book News, December 2012
“[Bown] describes Amundsen's approach to expeditions as military operations and portrays his gift for flamboyant self-promotion and publicity seeking on the lecture circuit.”

CBC Books, 12/17/12“Bown draws on extensive research to create a clear and often surprising portrait of a truly adventurous spirit.”Library Journal, 12/20/12“A great new biography… Well written and enjoyable, the book uses ample quotes from Amundsen to give readers a sense of the man… a great title for collections that don’t own Amundsen’s own books or previous biographies, this volume is recommended for readers high school-age and up who are interested in polar exploration.”
Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 1/8/13“[A] persuasive and highly readable biography/adventure story.”

Curled Up with a Good Book“A compelling and enjoyable introduction to the man and his adventures. Bown writes Amundsen’s story with a sharp eye to what’s important…Amundsen’s life is without a doubt fascinating, and Bown does it a service by getting out of the way and just telling the story. At about 300 pages, this is a pleasurable, entertaining read that never overstays its welcome.”

Internet Review of Books, 12/19/12“Amundsen’s exciting life makes this an amazing read and the sixteen pages of photos are captivating.”
Santa Fe
New Mexican, 1/18/13“[A] comprehensive biography…An eye-opening mind-blowing page-turner. Bown has the ability to convey reams of facts, figures, and statistics while engaging the reader in Amundsen’s many life-and-death adventures.”

Canada’s History“Those who love tales of Arctic exploration and discovery will not be disappointed by Stephen R. Bown’s fresh look at the man many consider to be the world’s greatest polar explorer. From beginning to end, the Canadian writer’s telling of Roald Amundsen’s life is a thrilling yet thoughtful narrative.”

Phi Beta Kappa’s Key Reporter, 5/24/13“One of Bown’s strengths in writing this biography is his ability to write about Amundsen’s expeditions—often multi-year affairs during which the crew was completely isolated—in a way that engages readers accustomed to satellite phones and real-time updates…Bown’s clear prose never gets bogged down by the vast emptiness of its settings or by Amundsen’s regular successes in his expeditions. And when things do go wrong, such as when Amundsen attempts to fly a plane over the North Pole, Bown writes a tense narrative in which men struggle against themselves and nature to survive...The Last Viking should restore this remarkable man’s place in the canon of explorers, while winning itself a prized place on the shelves of adventure enthusiasts.”

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, 12/15/2013

“These later stories of Amundsen’s life are less frequently told, and Bown has done a good job of restoring them to Amundsen’s biography…Since the highly private Amundsen kept his private life to himself, we get little insight into the man (and Bown wisely avoids speculation). What we do get is an overdue acknowledgment of what Amundsen was: the greatest polar adventurer who ever lived, and the man whose life was the capstone on the Age of Exploration.”

The Historian, Vol. 76, No. 2

“Bown tells an exciting story very well. The narrative moves as quick as a sled pulled by strong huskies across the ice.”

Library Journal
Bown (Merchant Kings: When Companies Ruled the World, 1600—1900) presents a great new biography of Norwegian polar explorer Roald Amundsen (1872–1928), one of the most famous explorers of the Heroic Age of Exploration. Amundsen beat Robert Falcon Scott to the South Pole, led the first expedition to reach the North Pole, took the first ship through the Northwest Passage, led the first expedition to traverse the North Pole (Spitzbergen to Alaska) in an airship, and was the first to try to reach the North Pole by airplane. This biography draws mostly from Amundsen’s books about his expeditions as well as his diaries.

Verdict Well written and enjoyable, the book uses ample quotes from Amundsen to give readers a sense of the man. However, Bown adds nothing new to the information already in print. A great title for collections that don’t own Amundsen’s own books or previous biographies, this volume is recommended for readers high school–age and up who are interested in polar exploration.—Betty Galbraith, Washington State Univ. Lib., Pullman(c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Reviews
Bown (1494: How a Family Feud in Medieval Spain Divided the World in Half, 2012, etc.) delivers an intensely researched, thoroughly enjoyable life of one of history's best explorers. As the author demonstrates, Roald Amundsen (1872–1928) was certainly the most skilled polar explorer. Obsessed with adventure from boyhood, the teenage Amundsen led companions on exhausting attempts to cross the mountains of his native Norway during winter. He joined the 1897 Belgian Antarctic expedition, receiving a painful education on the consequences of poor planning. In 1903, he outfitted a fishing boat with a crew of six and crossed the Northwest Passage from Greenland to Alaska. Moored for two years in the Arctic, he eagerly learned from the local Inuit. The lessons he learned--ignorance of which killed many polar explorers--included: Animal-skin clothes trump wool, and transportation requires dogs and skis. The crossing gave Amundsen international celebrity, making it easier to finance an expedition to the North Pole. When both Robert Peary and Frederick Cook claimed to have reached it (a controversy that persists), Amundsen aimed for the South Pole, announcing the decision before Robert Falcon Scott announced his expedition. Superbly organized and supplied, Amundsen's expert skiers and dog handlers won the race in 1911 and survived, while Scott's less efficient team died. After World War I, Amundsen failed to reach the North Pole by plane but succeeded by dirigible, finally disappearing in 1928 while flying to rescue another expedition. A superb biography of a fiercely driven explorer who traveled across the last inaccessible areas on earth before technical advances made the journey much easier.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780306821622
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press
  • Publication date: 9/25/2012
  • Series: A Merloyd Lawrence Book
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 338,382
  • File size: 4 MB

Meet the Author

Stephen R. Bown is the author ofScurvy: How a Surgeon, a Mariner and A Gentleman Solved the Greatest Medical Mystery of the Age of Sail, selected as one of the Globe and Mail’s Top 100 books of 2004, and A Most Damnable Invention: Dynamite, Nitrates and the Making of the Modern World, selected for the Scientific American Book Club, the History Book Club and the Quality Paperback Book Club. He lives with his wife and two young children near Banff in the Canadian Rockies.
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Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Prologue: The Last of the Vikings - 5

Chapter One: The Boy from the Mountain Kingdom - 21
Chapter Two: Polar Apprentice - 43
Chapter Three: An Extraordinary Plan - 64
Chapter Four: Where Franklin Died - 84
Chapter Five: An Education at Gjoa Haven – 102

Chapter Six: “I Resolved Upon a Coup” - 127
Chapter Seven: The Napoleon of the Poles - 152
Chapter Eight: Dogs and Skis - 176
Chapter Nine: A Featureless Expanse of Snow - 193

Chapter Ten: A Hero Returns - 217
Chapter Eleven: A New Battlefield - 235
Chapter Twelve: The Frozen Reaches of Tartary - 254

Chapter Thirteen: Grounded Dreams - 274
Chapter Fourteen: The Arctic Phoenix - 299
Chapter Fifteen: The Dirigible and the Fascist – 319
Chapter Sixteen: A Massed Attack on the Polar Regions - 339

Chapter Seventeen: No More Poles to Conquer - 361

Epilogue: The End of the Heroic Age - 382

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 31, 2014

    I Also Recommend:

    I've enjoyed some classics in this genre such as Endurance: Shac

    I've enjoyed some classics in this genre such as Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage and Arctic Adventure: My Life in the Frozen North (which is a lessor known but great account of life in the Arctic). So I was interested in The Last Viking. The Last Viking is a well-crafted work on both the life and achievements of Roald Amundsen, one of history's greatest explorers. Among Amundsen's headline accomplishments were that he was the first European to sail the Northwest Passage, the first person to see the North Pole, and the first human to reach the South Pole. The Norwegian press called him "The Last Viking."

    While author Stephen R. Bown is clearly taken with Amundsen's life and heroics, he doesn't shy away from showing us his warts too. Bown gives us a 21st century look at Amundsen, a man characterized by intense determination and passion, but with a stubbornness and inability to express feelings that could be infuriating; a man who was capable of great charm, but also great arrogance.

    But when it came to exploration, Amundsen had the humility to learn from the Intuit who, unlike most Europeans of his day, he considered his cultural equal. Bown does a fine job chronicling the details and historical context of Amundsen's adventures. Through these details, we get entertaining accounts of the travels and travails of the Last Viking. Armchair explorers will be pleased as there is plenty of good adventure, such as plane crashes and maulings by polar bears.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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