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The Ice Balloon

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The story of the only person to attempt to reach the North Pole by balloon, and the golden age of Polar Exploration.

In August 1930 a Norwegian sloop sailing in the Arctic Ocean moored at a remote island. Here, the crew members found a body leaning against a rock. When they saw a large monogram ‘A’ on the body’s jacket, they realized who the unfortunate adventurer had been: S. A. Andrée, the Swede who, in 1897, set off to discover the North Pole, one of the last unmapped places on earth.

The Ice Balloon is the story of the heroic era of polar exploration, and the dream of conquering one of the most inhumane landscapes on earth. In this golden age of discovery, Andrée’s ambition was the most original and remarkable. For, of the thousand or so people who had gone looking for the Pole, most of whom perished on the way, only Andrée used a balloon.


‘Wilkinson’s writing is so flawless and engaging that I’d read him on a packed subway at rush hour.’ Sebastian Junger

‘The Ice Balloon tells a remarkable story, while also allowing those of other explorers and their ill-fated expeditions to float gracefully through its pages’ Carl Wilkinson, Financial Times

‘It does take a writer of Wilkinson’s diligence of research, elegance of style and perfect pitch as a storyteller to give a doomed, forgotten hero a fine memorial to his heroic adventure in the golden, amateur age of polar exploration’ Iain Finlayson, The Times

‘Wilkinson writes with insight and flair, artfully interleaving Andrée’s story with a brief history of Arctic exploration … his prose style suits the spare polar landscape, making his occasional poetic touches even more effective … He understands that the value of polar stories lies in our endless love of discovery and the drama of being human.’ Sara Wheeler, New York Times

‘An elegant history of Arctic exploration’ TLS

‘Some engaging material here’ Sunday Telegraph, Melanie McGrath

‘If Wilkinson does not add much that is new to the story, he re-tells it with panache and compassion’ Joanna Kavenna, Spectator

About the author

ALEC WILKINSON began writing for The New Yorker in 1980. Before that, he was a policeman in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, and before that he was a rock-and-roll musician. He has published nine books, including The Happiest Man in the World and The Protest Singer. His honours include a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Lyndhurst Prize, and a Robert F. Kennedy Book Award.

From Publishers Weekly

13 February 2012 – A reporter for The New Yorker since 1980, Wilkinson (The Protest Singer) recounts Swede S. A. Andr e's failed 1897 bid for the North Pole via hydrogen balloon (dubbed rnen, or The Eagle) in this epic tale of adventure. Toward the end of the 19th century, global discovery was still a novelty, and though Andr e was one of many "thrill seekers romantics visionary dreamers," his mode of transport set him apart. Relying on Andr e's journal discovered by a Norwegian sloop in 1930 along with Andr e's remains on a remote Arctic island and extensive research, Wilkinson's anecdotal narrative is captivating, and he deftly conjures images of forbidding ice-white landscapes. A portrait not only of a man, but of an age, the book is packed with technological, geographic, cultural, and scientific tidbits. Andr e comes across as forward-thinking and cavalier, as well as disciplined and rational. However, Andr e's motives and reputation were, and still are, hotly debated was he, as Urban Wrakberg sought to disprove, an "isolated dreamer out of touch with the real polar science and technology of his period," or a pioneer and catalyst for more than a century of discovery? Regardless, Wilkinson's book is a thrilling account of a remarkable man and, in the words of Alexis Machuron a witness to Andr e and rnen's departure his daring exploration of "the sea, the ice-field and the Unknown!" Photos and maps.
The Ice Balloon
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  • £4.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: History
  • Published: 02 February 2012
  • Publisher: Fourth Estate
  • Print Length: 288 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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