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on 13 May 2013
This biography of Roald Amundsen, arguably the greatest of explorers of the heroic age of polar exploration, is well-written, revealing and comprehensive.

What I found most appealing was that whilst it is clear that Stephen Bown has undertaken prodigious research, this is no dry academic treatise. Instead, Bown tells a story which increasingly peels back the layers, revealing the inner man who was the complex character that Amundsen undoubtedly was.

By any account, the Norwegian Amundsen achieved so much in his life of 55 years. None of his expeditions were state sponsored, though he did receive state grants and sponsorship. Essentially he was a private individual who badgered, persuaded and inspired others to support him. He was a master mariner. He was the first to traverse the North-West passage and the first to reach the South Pole. He traversed the North-East passage. He was the first to fly (almost) to the North Pole (and arguably the first man there) and the first to traverse the Arctic in a dirigible. And he trekked many thousands of miles through desolate frozen territory surviving on the skills which he had acquired by close study of the ways of indigenous Arctic peoples. Essentially he was a modern man, informed by the past, but always open to new ways to explore, as technology developed.

What I particularly liked about this biography, in addition to its style of writing, was that whilst Bown was clearly a great admirer of Amundsen, he managed to remain even-handed. So, for instance, though he felt Amundsen's approach and method was much more likely to succeed in getting to the South Pole than were Scott's, he refrained from denigrating Scott, as others have done. In addition, he does not shrink from identifying some of Amundsen's perceived shortcomings, especially during the latter part of his life. Particularly revealing was his relationship with Nobile, the Italian whom he joined forces with to cross the Arctic in a dirigible. Amundsen's own account of this venture (included in his 'My Life as an Explorer') is vitriolic and one-sided, whereas Bown reveals much more of the two-sided nature of the clash between the 2 protagonists.

Amundsen's life ended as he evidently would have wished, not as an ageing but accomplished has-been, but on yet another mission. (A forlorn attempt to rescue Nobile from another venture). A sad end? Perhaps. But what a man! And Stephen Bown has captured the essence of that man beautifully.
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on 7 September 2015
Fascinating story of an intriguing man. I got interested in Amundsen (and the North West passage) after visiting the Polar Fram museum in Oslo in July of this year. To me, these icy landscapes, the extreme cold, the constant battle for food, the constant battle to move things on low rations and energy is absolutely engrossing. As I sit on my sofa, watching daytime TV and reading a book, these men seem totally crazy and heroic. It's just great to shiver along with a cup of hot cocoa. (Although I did detect a slight whiff of anti-Britishness from the author with his talk of the rigid class system and traditions, probably mostly correct, as the British attempt to find the North-West passage was mostly pig-headed, illogical and showed a failure to learn from the native people about how to cope with life in the Arctic.)
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on 24 October 2012
Stephen Bown is a descriptive writer who draws you into the subject matter of his books. 'The Last Viking' for me is a superb read as I knew little about Roald Amundsen and more about Scott and this story, set in opening of the 20th Cent outlines the adventure and hardships endured by Amundsen and his team on various Artic (North Pole and Great Northwest Passage)and Antarctic expedition(s)(to the South Pole). For those who read in bed grab the duvet, snuggle down and travel to the frozen wastes with Stephen Bown as your guide - amazing!
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on 13 April 2013
If you ever wondered why Amundsen got to the South Pole first then read this book. His birth in country of snow and ice and learning the means to travel over it, made the race for the Pole a forgone conclusion. As much as one admires Scott for his determination and bravery he was never going to win that race. Amundsen also discovered the North west passage and flew over the North Pole. He died as he lived in the Polar region. The well told story of a man who is an enigma to many, and sadly seen by some as underhand, simply because he arrived at the Pole before Scott. Naive in many of his dealings, he should be remembered as a man of courage and this book is adequate testimony.
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on 15 September 2013
Amundsen's story is truly inspiring. His success - a result of planning, Nordic efficiency, great management, and sheer grit- a fascinating contrast to the glorious polar failures of Edwardian England.

I had high hopes about this biography of the great polar explorer, but I do feel the book lacked depth, especially compared to Roland Huntford's "Shackleton" and Wade Davis' amazing "Into The Silence: The Great War, Mallory and the Conquest of Everest".

Worth a read all the same, to learn more about the master of the snow.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 29 January 2013
There are two types of biographies: those that try to write a comprehensive, 'definitive' history of the subject and those that simply aim to tell a story, capturing the essence of a person. This biography is in the second category and is probably all the better for it. If you like your biographies to be at least 900 pages and know exactly what so-and-so was doing on the 19th November in 1919, this book might frustrate you, but if you want a compelling narrative that eschews superfluous details, this account is highly recommended.

In 'The Last Viking', the author has successfully curated a wealth of research to produce a narrative that is never anything other than gripping, rationing the details of Amundsen's early years in favour of concentrating on the most interesting part of his life. Above all, he asks why Amundsen was so successful compared to rivals like Scott.

This book is perfect for the casual reader who is interested in polar exploration - the descriptions of Amundsen's missions vivdly recreate the hostile environements he encountered. It is a cliche to say that I couldn't put it down, but it's true. This is a very enjoyable book about an extraordinary man who has, in Great Britain at least, never received the credit he deserved for his extraodinary leadership skills.
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on 30 April 2013
Road Amundsen turns out to have been a thoroughly interesting character. This warm and affectionate biography gives a real picture of the man behind the records and debunks the notion that he was some sort of automaton whose success derived from a cold, calculating approach to the conquest of various geographic/exploratory targets. It is true that he put enormous time and effort into the planning of his various adventures - what the book draws out is his real love of time on adventures, which he much preferred to the rounds of fund-raising and publicity which preceded and succeeded his various expeditions. The book also gives a great feel to the armchair adventurer of the privations of these long voyages in the days before satellite communications - ships frozen in place for long periods of time; diets based on barely-cooked seal meat; the digging-out of ice caves and the creation of a routine to help the men get through the rigours of polar winters. Amundsen also had an interesting personal life which the book draws out, and the end of his life (with which the book begins) seems by the end of it to have been the inevitable consequence of his life-long approach to adventuring.
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on 5 January 2014
This has been one of the best Christmas pressies that I received. I know very little about Amundsen and have wanted to read more about his life for some time. The author writes giving just the perfect amount of information and story to take you along at a fast pace leaving you ready to read more about this man's amazing life. It is clear there could be more to write but this would take you into a more detailed study of his life and result in the book being too heavy for most. I always like books that get you thinking and extend your thoughts beyond putting the book down at the end of the day and this one certainly does. I would definitely recommend this book - the dilemma is do I read more on Amundsen or find another book by the same author.
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on 21 February 2017
If you are ONLY interested in explorers like Shackleton and Scott you need to read this to gain an understanding of why 'The British Establishment' tried to rubbish Amundsen's achievements. Ok I'm a Shackleton fan - and so was Amundsen. And if Scott had taken on board Amundsen's use of dogs and travelling light...then it would have been Amundsen who would have had to watch Scott reach the South Pole first. Amundsen's adventures - from childhood - are covered in Bown's book. His meticulous research paints a 3-D image and perspective of Amundsen. He comes across as a worthy adversary to the great British explorers and this book reveals the true nature of the man - warts and all - as well as covering his many exploits...
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on 10 April 2013
Interesting book (mostly) about Amundsen and the importance of the new Norway in polar exploration. Good to read the balance to the Scott/Amundsen debate.
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