Arctic Dreams

Arctic Dreams : Imagination and Desire in a Northern Landscape

4.19 (4,480 ratings by Goodreads)
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Winner of the National Book Award and a best-seller upon publication in 1986, Arctic Dreams is now acknowledged as a classic, a book that re-defined the genre of nature writing. In prose of transparent beauty, Lopez celebrates the Arctic landscape and the animals and people that live there. He recounts massive migrations by land, sea and air, the epic voyages of explorers, distant mountain that is actually a looming mirage. But he also looks deep into our dreams and the strange fascination that the Arctic exerts over our imaginations. Why do we find such a hostile, elemental environment so beautiful, so full of magic, so rich in ideas about how we should live our lives?show more

Product details

  • Paperback | 496 pages
  • 128 x 196 x 34mm | 340.2g
  • Vintage Publishing
  • The Harvill Press
  • London, United Kingdom
  • English
  • maps
  • 1860465838
  • 9781860465833
  • 226,793

Review Text

Lopez eloquently describes four years of wanderings in the Arctic Circle, from Baffin Island to the Bering Sea. As his subtitle perhaps suggests, his writing is attenuated and overly metaphysical at times. For the most part, however, the high seriousness is a gamble that pays off. At its best, this is much more than a travel book. Like John McPhee, Lopez is a conservationist as well as an excellent writer. Unlike McPhee, Lopez is uninterested in anecdotes, seldom describing either his human companions or the technological support-systems that make his presence in such a remote and forbidding landscape possible. His most memorable descriptions are of animals: arctic foxes, migrating musk-oxen, sea-birds. Self-consciously rejecting a human-centered viewpoint, Lopez instead shows things as they might appear to the creatures them-selves. Of the whales hunted in Baffin Bay during the 19th century (38,000 were killed by the British fishing fleet alone; some 200 remain today), Lopez writes: "The blowhole. . .is so sensitive to touch that at a bird's footfall a whale asleep at the surface will start wildly. The fiery pain of a harpoon strike can hardly be imagined." He goes on to tell of a whale harpooned by the Truelove in 1856 - it dove 1,200 feet to the ocean floor in less than four minutes, breaking its neck and "burying its head eight feet deep in blue-black mud. "Lopez, then, affords no armchair escape from life's harsher realities. In the apparently unchanging landscape of the Arctic, he sees many signs of degeneration and loss. He quotes, for instance, anthropologists' estimates that 90% of the Eskimo population has died out since its first contact with European trappers and explorers in the 19th century (lack of immunity to such diseases as tuberculosis and diphtheria is the probable cause). While acutely receptive to beauty - whether a spectacular display of Northern Lights or an uneasy encounter with the beady eye of a vigilant ground-nesting bird - Lopez sees even such moments of "Hyperborean" calm as only respites from the encroachments of history and human expansion. This is a polemic, then - and at its best moments, something more. Combining his heightened, notably "literary" style with his objective desire to see things as they are from the viewpoint of his "primitive" or "wild" subject-matter, Lopez often succeeds in transmitting a unique and powerful vision. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

Review quote

"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 Hillabyshow more

About Barry Lopez

Barry Lopez is the author of six works of non-fiction and eight works of fiction. His writing appears regularly in Harper's, The Paris Review, Orion, and The Georgia Review. He is the recipient of a National Book Award, an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and other honours. Lopez lives in western more

Rating details

4,480 ratings
4.19 out of 5 stars
5 46% (2,049)
4 34% (1,520)
3 16% (709)
2 3% (146)
1 1% (56)
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