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Comment: Near fine. Cloth, D-j. 2012. May contain remainder mark. Originally published at $27.5.
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The Last Viking: The Life of Roald Amundsen (A Merloyd Lawrence Book) Hardcover – September 25, 2012

4.6 out of 5 stars 88 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


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

Winnipeg Free 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.”

Boston Globe, 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.”

“Details both the good and the bad about his extraordinary man.”

InfoDad.com, 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.”

Winnipeg Free Press, 10/6/12
“Bown's tension-packed narrative recounts the illustrious career of the most accomplished polar explorer of all time.”

Shipwreckology.com, 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 Antonio Express-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.”

About 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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Product Details

  • Series: A Merloyd Lawrence Book
  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press; 1St Edition edition (September 25, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0306820676
  • ISBN-13: 978-0306820670
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.5 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (88 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #406,977 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I'm thrilled to have found this book as I'm doing research on Amundsen for a lecture I'll be presenting to about 100 people aboard two eco-tourism trips this winter to the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the Antarctic Peninsula.
I've been reading several different books but this is the one I've chosen to take with me for reference.
It's my 9th year as a kayak guide and lecturer in Antarctica and I've found in general our passengers get a bit overwhelmed with stories and lectures about Shackleton and Scott so I believe this will satisfy and/or open new territory and understanding.
It piqued my interest as well, both my parents were Norwegian, born about the time of Amundsen's passing. I believe not only was he a great leader but possessed keen insight into people's characters, created good working teams and, through a number of positive factors, achieved great things.
One has to admire his tireless and impeccable preparations, he never lost a man on any of his expeditions due to careful planning and execution of gear (furs), food (fresh meat) and methods of travel (skis and dog sledges).
I choose not to compare his South Pole exploration with Scott's too much, I'd found myself growing weary of others' scathing critiques.
I've chosen instead to stick only to Amundsen's story, it's so compelling and stands very well on its own.
I've found this book enlightening and refreshing in that the author has stuck with his main character and not fallen into the comparison trap.
Amundsen's story is detailed with enough of his own research we know he'd done his homework.
To do anything less might spell disaster, which others had suffered.
As you've said there had to be more behind the man than his stoic public persona, the image he fed to the world.
The private image can generally be more interesting than the public one, as this book shows.
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Format: Hardcover
My sister in law gave this to me for Christmas, and it's amazing that she found something I hadn't read on polar explorers, since I have 3 shelves full of books. "The Last Viking" is well worthy of sitting alongside the others.

I'm a particular fan of Amundsen because my mom was from Norway (she saw him in a parade in Oslo sometime in the early 1920s when she was a little girl and used to talk about that a lot), so I grew up with the Norwegian perspective of Amundsen as the pre-eminent explorer of his age. Roland Huntford's "The Last Place On Earth" flipping the received wisdom on Scott and Amundsen was thus no surprise to me. The comparison between the guy who studies every aspect of his task, prepares with the utmost care, and then accomplishes it with seeming ease to a fellow who thinks he can get through by will power and spontaneous creativity but then dies in the effort is a lesson with universal applicability.

But a strength of "The Last Viking" is that it doesn't get wound around the axle of the supposed Scott vs Amundsen competition. Author Stephen Bown recognizes that Amundsen developed his methods independently of any knowledge of Scott in being the first to complete the northwest passage, and the competition only existed to the extent that Amundsen knew that the continued funding for his explorations was dependent on achieving firsts, so he needed to make haste. But the two men never came anywhere near each other in the supposed race, and the competitive aspect is largely the result of revisionist writings.

Most books about Amundsen elevate his conquest of the South Pole to the detriment of his many other accomplishments.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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.
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