Posted by: Mish | September 10, 2009

Learning Adventure

btt2BTT asked this week, “What’s the most informative book you’ve read recently?”

Easily answered that would be My Life With the Eskimo by Canadian explorer and ethnologist Vilhjálmur Stefánsson. It’s an account of what was, at the time (1908-1912), the longest Arctic expedition and one of the last done by dog-sled. I learned a lot about the region and its exploration, its native and non-native inhabitants, and the effects of whaling, which was coming to an end. Some may think that 431 pages of such topics would be dreadfully dull, but that was as sparse as caribou during migration season. My Life With the Eskimo is an academic account, but at the same time it’s thoroughly engaging, and I found myself taking copious notes. Most likely it’ll remain among my top ten reads for the year and I’d be interested to read some more of Stefánsson’s accounts and findings.

A couple months after reading the Arctic adventure I was in my favorite bookstore and came across a first edition account of another explorer that Stefánsson had mentioned. A few times he talks about incompetence and how (I think it was) Franklin perished during his second or third expedition so this comment came to mind:

“No man should engage in Arctic exploration who is unable to walk as many miles a day as his dogs are able haul his sled and camp gear” and that many of the previous explorers were “little better than baggage hauled along by the common men of their expeditions (whose very names seldom find a place in the records)” (261).

I’ll most likely end up getting it, but doubt it’s going anywhere soon so I’m in no rush. I gather from my skimming that Stefánsson’s is the better of the two, but it’d be interesting to compare them and read more about the Arctic during that time.

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