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The Ice Museum: In Search of the Lost Land of Thule Hardcover – Bargain Price, February 2, 2006

4.5 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Hardcover, Bargain Price, February 2, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly

The fourth-century B.C. Greek explorer Pytheas claimed to have sailed six days from Scotland and discovered a land he named Thule. From Pytheas's brief, oft-disputed account of a land of short winter days where the sea turned into a viscous mass sprang an entire mythology of a magical, northern realm hidden beyond the edges of civilization. Kavenna's discursive book takes a thoughtful stroll through the different myths of Thule, examining how it became symbolic of everything from the Victorians' lost Arcadia to a polluted fantasy of racial purity for the proto-Nazi Thule Society. Kavenna, who's written for the Guardian and other British papers, follows the mark of Thule from the beer halls of Munich to the imagined Thules of the Shetland Islands, Iceland, Greenland and beyond. While frequently rhapsodic in regard to the epic landscapes, Kavenna resists the urge to attach too much import to her travels, not forcing the mythological on the everyday (unlike many Thule hunters, including fantasist Richard Burton). Although Kavenna's voyages don't solve the mystery as such, they provide fodder for a bracing account of humankind's dream of exploration and of the explorers "determined to discover, to shade in the blanks on the maps." (Feb. 6)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From The New Yorker

In this historical travelogue, Kavenna sets out in search of the quasi-mythical land of Thule, which the Greek explorer Pytheas, in the fourth century B.C., claimed to have reached by sailing north for six days from Britain, then the boundary of the known world. In the following centuries, Arctic voyagers christened each successive discovery—from Shetland and Norway to Svalbard—Thule. But the word also became synonymous with the idea of the far north, a "blank white space" to be filled with fears and fantasies of the unknown. For the Romans, who believed that nothing was out of their reach, it was the farthest outpost of their empire; for the Victorians, it was Poe's "wild weird clime"; and for certain Nazis it was a lost Aryan homeland. As she travels, Kavenna ponders the two millennia in which the myth thrived, a time before the entire globe was mapped, and when "its edges were vague, falling into shadows."
Copyright © 2006 The New Yorker --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult (February 2, 2006)
  • ISBN-10: 0670034738
  • ASIN: B000IOEYAK
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.7 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,638,504 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By JAMES AGNEW on September 16, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I'll admit I was resistant to this book at first - I guess I expected a more scholarly, weighty approach, rather than Kavenna's very personal picaresque - but she won me over quickly with her elegant, lyric prose, her disarming, understated persona, and her expert blending of travel narrative and history of ideas, literature and exploration. She begins by visiting all the places that have been considered possible locations of Thule, the Shetland Islands, Iceland, Norway, Estonia, advancing northward, capturing what she sees as she smoothly explicates what other travelers have said about those places as Thule, and also examining the turbulent history of Arctic exploration at large.

To me, the strongest section of the book is when Kavenna grapples with the most hateful mannifestation of the Thule ideal - its expropriation by the Nazis as pristine mythico-historical homeland where snow white Aryan purity reigned. The Thule Society was one of many esoteric/political organizations that flourished in Europe, and one of the handful that served as an early focus and gathering place for what was to become the Nazi party. This confluence of modernist and fascist elements is as troubling as it is seemingly inevitable, and Kavenna approaches this treacherous territory with the proper measure of fascination and abhorrence.
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Format: Hardcover
A classic, I'd say! In the manner of Colin Thubron and Paul Theroux, Kavenna writes a travel book that is much more than a description of places. The Ice Museum is a wonderful story. It's about lots of really different things, but they all get stitched together by Kavenna's style, which really flows. So you read it like a thriller, even though it's dense with history. It's about (among other things) 20th Century history, polar exploration, the world wars, Iceland, Norway, Greenland, Scotland, Germany, Roald Amundsen, BAltic independence, Richard Burton (the explorer), the rise of NAzism, the Cold War (there's a US airbase called THule in Greenland) the plight of the Greenlanders and lots more besides. I never knew a thing about Thule before I picked up the book. But I discovered that Thule is a forgotten story, one of those stories which turns up in the most unexpected places. Thule was a myth about a last land in the North, never a real place, so Kavenna is constantly writing about the difference between what you expect and what you get. She takes the reader through hundreds of years of ideas about Thule and then lands you in the mess of the 20th Century. Basically, it's a very profound book, but always readable. You'll love it.
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Format: Hardcover
This is an account of a voyage in search of the mythical land of THule, which the Ancient GReeks wrote about, a land beyond the edge of the maps, in the far North. Thule was remote, very cold, beautiful, and completely strange. No one knew where it was, but explorers set off for thousands of years, trying to discover it. Eventually it became a symbol of the north and of distant lands, becoming particularly important during the great race for the North POle.

Kavenna does a lot of hard-core travel in this book, including hitching up the coast of Greenland. She goes to Scotland, Iceland, Norway, Greenland, Spitzbergen. I really enjoyed her account of the US Air base in GReenland - that could have been a standard piece of anti-AMerican ranting, but she manages to show what a weird posting it must be for the soldiers without mocking them. As a writer, Kavenna is very unegotistical - she is much more interested in the people she meets and describing the places around her than in her own personal quest and her own biographical details. The subjects she is describing are really interesting and there's a lot of fascinating geographical and historical information about the countries she visits - some of them remote, like GReenland, and not very easy to visit. I have not visited the places she goes to, except Scotland, and I really wanted to travel there by the end, especially to Norway, which Kavenna writes about with particular enthusiasm. I enjoyed her love of the North, whcih comes through very clearly - she communicates that love without becoming sentimental.
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Format: Hardcover
In the fourth century BC, the Greek merchant and explorer Pytheas (~380-~310 BC) traveled north through the North Sea, and finally ended up at a distant island, which he called Thule. Thule lies far to the north, on the edge of the Arctic ice, where the sun never set during midsummer. Many centuries later, Joanna Kavenna, a native of London, found herself dreaming of an untouched northern landscape, glittering in its perpetual ice. And so, she set out to find Thule...this is the story of her search.

In this interesting book, the author does a good job of combining two different stories into one narrative. First and foremost, it is the story of Ms. Kavenna’s visits to the northern lands that could have been Thule – the Shetland Islands, Norway, Iceland, Greenland and Svalbard. Secondly, this is the story of the idea of Thule, from Pytheas’s history and its ancient detractors, through the Romantics, the Victorians and even the Nazis.

Overall, I found this to be quite an interesting book. The author is not an archaeologist, so you will not find any startling information on the ancient north. And she is also not an environmentalist, so while the tale of pollution of the north is described, it is far from being an important part of the book. Instead, what you have is the story of Thule, Thule as it was dreamed of in the past, and Thule as it exists today.
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