A Globe and Mail top 100 book of 2012
The untold story of the great polar explorer who conquered the world's last unknown places, before vanishing in a daring bid to rescue his nemesis.
In the early 1900s, many of the great geographical mysteries that had intrigued adventurers for centuries remained unsolved, leaving some large blank areas on the increasingly detailed maps of the world. The polar regions -- the Northwest Passage, the South Pole, the North Pole and the Northeast Passage -- despite having claimed countless lives, were still shrouded in mystery. One man would claim all these prizes within a span of 20 years.
Roald Amundsen was an adventurer and entertainer of the highest order. Larger than life, arrogant and competitive, he was also a meticulous organizer and planner, willing to learn from the mistakes of others, and humble enough to seek the advice of indigenous peoples skilled in arctic survival -- thus avoiding the early death that was so common among others who challenged the most desolate places on the planet.
But Amundsen's life was one of sharp contrasts: reviled by the British for defeating Robert Falcon Scott in a desperate race to the South Pole, he was loved by his men, hailed as a hero in his native Norway and idolized as a charming and eccentric celebrity in the United States. Drawing on hundreds of recently uncovered press clippings, The Last Viking goes beyond Amundsen's conflicted legacy, revealing a humorous, self-deprecating storyteller who had unusual opinions and dreams; a visionary and showman who won over both his sponsors and his audiences with the same verve that characterized his geographical conquests.
"Bown draws on extensive research and access to the personal journals of Amundsen and his travel companions to paint rich and gripping accounts of his perilous voyages. … marvellously entertaining"
"Alberta-based Bown likes to take on biographies that offer new insights into historical subjects. His Amundsen, the Norwegian explorer-showman, was a chap beloved by his men who literally put the North and South poles on the map. He draws on archival material translated to mark the 100th anniversary of Amundsen's reaching the South Pole in 1911."
"In chronicling Amundsen's career, Bown shows that it is ultimately an explorer's vision, not his or her business acumen or public relations skills, that makes incredible feats possible. For the armchair explorers among his readers, Bown offers a second, more poignant layer of insight into how the modern age has shaped our attitudes toward the unknown."
"A giant in the heroic age of exploration, the Norwegian Roald Amundsen was perhaps the greatest adventurer of them all..."
"Bown delivers an intensely researched, thoroughly enjoyable life of one of history's best explorers. A superb biography of a fiercely driven explorer who traveled across the last inaccessible areas on earth before technical advances made the journey much easier."
"Bown makes a compelling case that Amundsen deserves renewed recognition for his outstanding achievements."
"Bown gracefully weaves together these and other journalistic records, along with journals kept by Amundsen and his men, to paint a surprisingly intimate portrait of a complex, at times difficult, yet eminently admirable man."
"This work is a lovingly written tribute to one of humankind's greatest thrillseekers."
"As a description of an explorer's life [The Last Viking] is intelligent and often thrilling. Bown gives us an 'explorer-as-entertainer' who used skis, sleds, ships, and airships 'like an artist constantly changing mediums.'"
"Stephen Bown is a writer with the gift of making historical characters vivid and impassioned, lifting them off the page"
"...a wonderful story, especially for armchair travelers. In addition to elements of high adventure...Amundsen's story has a heroic, larger-than-life scale."