The Ice Balloon

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The Ice Balloon

S. A. Andree and the Heroic Age of Arctic Exploration

Alec Wilkinson, John Pruden


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In this grand and astonishing account, Alec Wilkinson brings us the story of S. A. Andree, the visionary Swedish aeronaut who in 1897, during the great age of Arctic endeavor, left to discover the North Pole by flying to it in a hydrogen balloon. Called by a British military officer "the most original and remarkable attempt ever made in Arctic exploration," Andree's expedition was followed by nearly the entire world, and it made him an international legend. The Ice Balloon begins in the late nineteenth century, when nations vied for the greatest discoveries and newspapers covered every journey. Wilkinson describes how in Andree several contemporary themes intersected. He was the first modern explorer-the first to depart for the Arctic unencumbered by notions of the romantic age and the first to be equipped with the newest technologies-but no explorer had ever left with more uncertainty regarding his fate, since none had ever flown over the horizon and into the forbidding region of ice. Woven throughout is Andree's own history and how he came by his brave and singular idea. We also get to know Andree's family, the woman who loved him, and the two men who accompanied him-Nils Strindberg, a cousin of the famous playwright, with a tender love affair of his own, and Knut Fraenkel, a willing and hearty young man. Andree's flight and the journey-based on the expedition's diaries and photographs, which were dramatically recovered thirty-three years after the balloon came down-along with Wilkinson's research, provide a book filled with suspense and adventure, a haunting story of high ambition and courage made tangible with the detail, beauty, and devastating conditions of traveling and dwelling in "the realm of Death," as one Arctic explorer put it.