The European picture of the Arctic is usually of snow and ice: the inhospitability of the terrain and the frigid wastes of the tundra contribute to our incapacity to imagine ordinary life there. In this magisterial book Barry Lopez draws on this hazy understanding of the far north to provide a compelling account of the land and its hold upon the psyche.
It is a book which could be compared to Chatwin's The Songlines for its combination of travelogue and poetic vision. Yet the beauty of the prose and the thought-provoking evocations of modern culture's shifting relationship with the environment are in a league of their own. Here are sparkling descriptions of the lives of caribou, muskoxen, polar bears and narwhals, and extraordinarily moving passages which meditate on the nature of our relationship with the world, the inter-dependence of ideas, desire and science and the possibility of dignity and compassion in the contemporary world.
It is a measure of the respect which Lopez has for his subject that his book exemplifies the supreme importance which he ascribes to the ethics of respect in the face of all existential paradox:
"There are simply no answers to some of the great pressing questions. You continue to live them out, making your life a worthy expression of a leaning into the light".
"The Arctic dreamland seen and described by a writer of rare perception and poetic descriptive power... The pages sparkle with Arctic light" (David Stephen Scotsman
"A marvellous evocation of the Arctic by a naturalist, who is part poet... A magical book to read slowly and savour" (Gillian Somerville-Large Irish Times
"Barry Lopez by some rare magic manages to combine a poetic vision with accuracy of observation; and although he writes mainly about Eskimos, polar bears, and other denizens of the frozen north, many of his perceptive insights apply the world over" (Paula Johnson Mail on Sunday
"Dazzling... Treats the distant, snowy world of the Arctic as a place that exists not only in the mathematics of geography but also in the terra incognita
of our imaginations" (Michiko Kakutani New York Times
"By what comes close to sheer magic, the magic of a highly literate and perceptive naturalist, Barry Lopez has transformed the austerity and Sibelius-like gloom of the tundra and great ice walls into a living pageant of high latitudes. This book will become a classic within its genre" (John Hillaby