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. Fted 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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Roald Amundsen was the greatest explorer of his time and, his biographer convincingly argues, possibly of any time. Best remembered as the discoverer of the South Pole, he was also the first person to study the magnetic North Pole, the first to sail the Northwest Passage, the first person to reach the North Pole, the first to use airplanes and airships in arctic exploration, and more. At times the most famous person in the world, the book uses Amundsen's fame as a venue for studying celebrity culture and the way celebrity itself becomes a career: book tours, paid speeches, taking tactical mutual advantage of the press, fundraising. "The Last Viking" also delves into the relationship between exploration and nationalism, and in discussing Amundsen's famous "race to the pole" with Scott (which wasn't a race at all), points out that Amundsen succeeded partly because of his admiration for and willingness to learn from native arctic cultures like the Inuit, while Scott, as an English gentleman, thought he could learn nothing from native peoples. Scott died in Antarctica because of his poor planning, but also, the author argues, because he carried the weight of the British Empire on his shoulders. Named by many organizations as one of the best books of 2012, “The Last Viking” is deeply researched, thoughtful, informative, entertaining, and often exciting. It is an outstanding biography.
- Leon Miller