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The Ice Balloon: S. A. Andree and the Heroic Age of Arctic Exploration Hardcover – Deckle Edge, January 24, 2012

3.7 out of 5 stars 39 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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Amazon Best Books of the Month, January 2012: Before the twentieth century, more than a thousand people tried to reach the (north) pole,” Alec Wilkinson writes in his entertaining new book. Most of those attempts were by ship, sled, and foot. The odds of reaching the pole alive were terrible. About three-fourths of those explorers died. But that one-in-four chance of success didn’t deter Swedish explorer S.A. Andree, who in 1897 attempted the most unlikely means of reaching the North Pole: by hydrogen balloon. What makes this more than another adventure story is Wilkinson’s exploration of mankind’s compulsion to reach the extreme points of the Earth, despite all the absurd and obvious risks. --Neal Thompson

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*Starred Review* A writer known for discerning portraiture (The Happiest Man in the World, 2007), Wilkinson here probes the personality of Swedish explorer Salomon Andrée, who, along with two companions, disappeared in an 1897 attempt to discover the North Pole by balloon. Their remains were found three decades later on an island near Spitzbergen, and from their accompanying diaries, letters, and photographs, Wilkinson narrates their flight and ensuing retreat toward civilization. That story of intrepid struggle caps Wilkinson’s main interest in placing Andrée within the tradition of exploration of the Arctic and adventurers’ emotional responses to the icescapes. Unlike his contemporary, Fridtjof Nansen, an expressive explorer who in his writings exulted in the sublime scenery, Andrée, an engineer, was a reticent man of facts and figures, one who “comes to life a little resentfully, as if interrupted.” Contemplating Andrée’s possible motivations—desire for fame and scientific achievement, intention to prove the balloon was a practical aircraft—Wilkinson concludes that the cautious Andrée became “as zealous and wild-eyed as any fanatic who went off toward the unfound places.” Wilkinson proves to be an evocative stylist and a solid historian in this fine addition to the annals of polar exploration. --Gilbert Taylor
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf (January 24, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780307594808
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307594808
  • ASIN: 0307594807
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 8.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #260,972 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
How did you feel when you were a kid and you released a helium balloon and watched go away over the horizon? Wilkinson captures that same odd, other-worldly sensation of wonder in this haunting, beautifully written mystery story. This is the tale of a driven arctic explorer, S.A. Andree, who believed he could reach the North Pole by hot air balloon. The story of his adventures and misadventures on the ice is also the story of the last chapter of the most romantic era of the West. In school, they called it The Age of Exploration, the strivings of a few reckless daredevils to see the parts of the globe that, just 150 years ago, were still unmapped, unseen, and unknown. Wilkinson does that thing only the best artists can: makes you see your own world again, as if for the first time.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a perfectly fine book - well written and dealing with an interesting and unexpected aspect of polar exploration. If it is your first foray into the history of arctic exploration, you are likely to enjoy it more than someone who has already looked into the substantial literature that is already out there. Or if you are simply interested in all things arctic, you will likely find something to appreciate.

Still, I would agree with some of the other reviewers that, in the the end, you have a sense that the basic source material was insufficient to fill a book on the Andree expedition. There are substantial sections dealing with the Greely expedition and Nansen, neither of which have much of a direct relation to the Andree story. In the case of Greely, the link appears to be his public statement of skepticism about Andree's balloon idea. Not much else, but we still get a rather lengthy account of the well-known Greely story. I enjoyed the book and learned a few things about balloons and about the arctic, but I cannot praise it as highly as some others have done.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As several others have noted, this book does not spend much time (only 30% of the book) on the actual journey and activities of Andree and his crew after their launch. They don't get off the ice in their ballon until page 148, and are dead on page 221 (total pages in the book 239). Another major gripe is the total lack of a map that is readable and of any value. The few maps included are small, of a large scale, poorly reproduced, and totally useless. In the exploration books I read, I refer to the maps constantly, otherwise, why bother mentioning lots of specific geographic names and locations? I want to follow the expedition!! I had to refer to maps in other books to get a partial understanding of where things happened. The quality of the pictures included is also poor (and they are small).

The author did short summaries of several other Arctic explorations and disasters, and you would be much better off spending your time reading the excellent Ghosts of Cape Sabine about the Greely Expedition, and Icebound, about De Long's attempt to reach the pole from the Bering Sea. Both of these are epic stories of survival and exploration with great maps. Another book that does an excellent job of summarizing expeditions to the Pole and search of the NW Passage is The Arctic Grail (670 pages!).

Take my advice and buy these other books instead; you won't be disappointed. Wilkinson should have titled his book "Information about stuff that happened before Andree launched his ballon to the Pole".
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Format: Hardcover
This book was well written and fast-paced. The reader should be aware that much of the book is spent on framing the dramatic era of arctic exploration and the personalities and adventures or mis-adventures of those involved. The fact that many years afterwards journals and undeveloped film were recovered along with the remains of Andree and his party allow us to know far more about the fate of the expedition than might otherwise be known beyond their fateful departure. I appreciated that the author refrained from filling out the tale with his own speculations and clearly indicated those places where he was venturing an opinion. The survivng photos were intriguing and my chief disappointment with the book was that the photos were not reproduced full-page and glossy, instead they are sprinkled throughout the book in very small scale. Over-all, recommended winter reading.
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Format: Hardcover
The Ice Balloon is set to join the ranks of classic Polar adventure books. Alec Wilkinson's prose is perfectly suited to the subject and is a wonderfully detailed, utterly compelling and exhilarating account of S.A. Andree's ill fated expedition. The heroes of this dramatic book were neither professional explorers or possessed military backgrounds, but during the Heroic Age of Arctic exploration, were ambitious and courageous enough to trust in science and attempt to reach the North Pole by hydrogen balloon. This fascinating book touches the explorer in all of us.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
]My grandpas cousin Nils Strindberg was on the balloon. I have also been a hot air ballon pilot for 20 years. That is the reason why I bought the book. I also have the original book from the expedition. And that book now has got a good company in the shelf. IMHO the book don't reveals any new information about that expedition. But it is fascinating to read the authors thouhts about it. Of course I was interested in Strindberg because it is family. My niece did a special paper in school about the life of Nils Stridberg before the expedition and how the family coped after his disappereance Nils father Oscar called Occa newer stop to mourn an wrote a poem to his lost son on his birthdays. The book is also a very good compilation of other expeditions to the artic and the age of Arctic expeditions in the backlight of the Andrée expedition. I recommend the book highly. anders wasen Strindberg's StarLetters from the Andree Party. The Balloon Expedition to the Pole - An Account of the Start by Andree's Fellow - Voyager Nils Strindberg - Letters Relating to the Expedition from Strindberg's Father.With the Eagle on the Pole : Andrees Polar Expedition in 1897 : The Complete Record of His 1897 Polar Balloon Flight (Med Ornen Mot Pole : Andrees Polarexpedition AR 1897) ** Swedish Edition **With the Eagle on the Pole : Andrees Polar Expedition in 1897 : The Complete Record of His 1897 Polar Balloon Flight (Med Ornen Mot Pole : Andrees Polarexpedition AR 1897) ** Swedish Edition **][[ASIN:0436505029 The Flight of the Eagle
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