Barry Lopez' ARCTIC DREAMS
A book review by Dennis D. McDonald
Reviewed upon finishing entire book
Arctic Dreams is a lot of things:
- A study of the animals that live in the Arctic Circle.
- A discussion of the different forms that ice can take.
- Descriptions of how the atmosphere in the Arctic affects light.
- A history of exploration, mapmaking, colonization, and exploitation.
- Ruminations about adventure seeking, greed, beauty, and terror.
Best of all, Arctic Dreams explores how we as humans relate to, impact, and are impacted by the world in which we live. The tales told by Lopez are wide-ranging and engaging. They testify not only to his writing skills but to his ability to act as an observer viewing the world through many different lenses ranging from research and science to social and economic circumstances.
The book is magnificent. We come away knowing not only more about the Arctic but also more about our relationship to the world in which we live, a world where, when true beauty is actually seen and experienced, feelings of awe and terror can arise simultaneously.
Review upon reading half way
This book is one scientist’s observations about the flora and fauna of the Arctic. What sets it apart from many other works is that it’s as much about observing wildlife as it is about wildlife.
It does not romanticize the life of the scientist. Nor does it anthropomorphize the animals. A reader can't come away from reading, say, the chapter on polar bears without some amazement at their complex behaviors and at how long a time it must have taken to evolve them.
Also, reading about the complex behavior of polar bears, I find it difficult to reconcile their relationship with their natural habitats and how it changes with the seasons with what artificial captivity must do to them.
The author piles on the details about both the animals and their relationship to humans, history, and the constantly changing environment. We also get a healthy dose of our continued ignorance about many of these animals, for example, the narwhals.
One easy reaction is to be appalled at how humans have misunderstood and maltreated animals in their environment. A more complex reaction to the author’s writing is an improved understanding of our own relationship to our environment despite the book’s focus on the Arctic and our relationship with and understanding of it.
The above is based on reading half the book so far. The writing in some places is amazingly insightful and surprisingly poetic. I'll revisit this review when I'm finished.
Review copyright (c) 2017 by Dennis D. McDonald. To find more reviews like this scroll down. To find out more about my consulting go here.