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 mentor of them all. He was the father of modern polar exploration, the last act of territorial discovery before the leap into space began.
Nansen was a prime illustration of Carlyle's dictum that 'the history of the world is but the biography of great men'. He was not merely a pioneer in the wildly diverse fields of oceanography and skiing, but one of the founders of neurology. A restless, unquiet Faustian spirit, Nansen was a Renaissance Man born out of his time into the new Norway of Ibsen and Grieg. He was an artist and historian, a diplomat who had dealings with Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin, and played a part in the Versailles Peace Conference, where he helped the Americans in their efforts to contain the Bolsheviks. He also undertook famine relief in Russia. Finally, working for the League of Nations as both High Commissioner for Refugees and High Commissioner for the Repatriation of Prisoners of War, he became the first of the modern media-conscious international civil servants.
|Publisher:||Little, Brown Book Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 7.50(h) x 2.00(d)|
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Roland Huntford has written a very good biography of a difficult man. Nansen was full of contradictions and personal demons. He treated the women in his life badly and, as a result, was involved in two unhappy marriages and several tumultuous affairs. He was a brilliant explorer but his men were happiest when he was absent. His later career as a humanitarian and diplomat reflected his several-sided personality as well. To his credit, Huntford glosses none of this over but it makes for difficult reading. It is hard to admire a man striving for the North Pole as he slaughters his dogs and treats his companion coldly. As a result, I found it took me several months off and on to finish the book. There is something lacking here that made Huntford's biography of Shackleton and his account of the Scott and Amundsen race to the South Pole so compelling. I believe that is the fault of the subject and not of the biographer.