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Dimensions:
210 × 150 × 18 mm
254 pages
Format:
Paperback
ISBN:
9781789140088
Illustrations:
111 illustrations, 62 in colour
Published:
07 Dec 2018
Series:
Earth

North Pole Nature and Culture Michael Bravo

In North Pole, Michael Bravo explains how visions of the North Pole have been supremely important to the world’s cultures and political leaders, from Alexander the Great to neo-Hindu nationalists. Tracing poles and polarity back to sacred ancient civilizations, this book explores how the idea of a North Pole has given rise to utopias, satires, fantasies, paradoxes and nationalist ideologies, from the Renaissance to the Third Reich.
The Victorian conceit of the polar regions as a vast empty wilderness, and the preserve of white males battling against the elements, was far from the only polar vision. Michael Bravo shows an alternative set of pictures, of a habitable Arctic criss-crossed by densely connected networks of Inuit routes, rich and dense in cultural meanings. In Western and Eastern cultures, theories of a sacred North Pole abound. Visions of paradise and a lost Eden have mingled freely with the imperial visions of Europe and the United States. Forebodings of failure and catastrophe have been companions to tales of conquest and redemption. Michael Bravo shows that visions of a sacred or living pole can help humanity understand its twenty-first-century predicament, but only by understanding the pole’s deeper history.

‘At the start of his book, Michael Bravo promises to “treat the mysterious power and allure of the North Pole in a way you will not have seen before”. It is a promise he fulfils in North Pole, a narrative that avoids the usual histories of exploration. His mission is to chart the layers of meaning that the pole has accumulated in our minds and that motivates the explorers who try to reach it . . . Bravo has written a rich and insightful book about our ideas of the pole. Although his focus is the North Pole, it left me thinking about the stories we all tell ourselves in our everyday lives.’ — Alun Anderson, New Scientist

‘Rather than plunge into discussions of climate change or accounts of famous expeditions, Cambridge lecturer Michael Bravo chooses to begin his fascinating book by exploring the differences between Greek and Inuit attitudes to the Pole Star and explaining the relationship between celestial and geographical poles . . . A learned, congenial guide, he is imaginative enough to recognise the importance of mythologies and traditions, together with subtle aspects such as trust (‘why a group of travellers from a particular culture will choose to trust their lives to a bearing based on the position of a fixed star’) – and he writes well. For anyone planning a quick visit, North Pole features beautiful illustrations, but there are real rewards for those prepared to go all the way.’ — Country Life

‘While explorers wrote accounts aiming to "lift the veil on an Arctic shrouded in the mists of time", satirists delighted in mocking their pretensions. Bravo's astute cultural history shows why the pole still provides a powerful "source of reflection on the human condition of inhabiting the globe".’ — Times Higher Education

‘Bravo diligently tracks discoveries, notably that of magnetism, drawing in the ideas and mythologies of Inuit peoples indigenous to the region. He reveals the planet yielding its secrets. Individuals emerge in the process as he conjures their achievements and theories. William Gilbert, for example, Elizabeth I’s doctor, was a brilliant inventor in the field of magnetism . . . The strength of this short book lies in its illustrations – more than 100 of them, brilliantly selected and reproduced. The whole volume is printed on glossy paper. The pictures range from sumptuous full-colour portraits to woodcuts, drawings of little wooden ships in the pincers of a floe, and early maps. It’s hard to pick favourites.’ — Sara Wheeler, The Spectator

‘In North Pole Michael Bravo shows how one of the most inhospitable places on Earth has played a central role in cultures from the Inuit and ancient Greeks to the great nineteenth-century polar explorers and today’s environmentalists. It is an utterly unique piece of cultural history . . . Bravo’s erudition is extraordinary, as is his fluent, accessible and witty prose . . . As he observes at the end of this tremendous book, there are no visas required at the North Pole; it is the ultimate point of transnational cooperation and hope for our common futures. This is connected history at its finest; a wonderful achievement.’ — Jerry Brotton, Professor of Renaissance Studies at Queen Mary University of London, and author of A History of the World in Twelve Maps

‘Bravo’s original study rediscovers an astonishing history of how the North Pole has been imagined and pursued across centuries and diverse cultures. From Inuit cosmography to Renaissance poetry, through Neoplatonic mathematics, mysticism, naval sciences and ethnonationalism, Bravo uncovers the strange contours and multiple identities that continue to give the North Pole such magnetic charisma today.’ — Adriana Craciun, Emma MacLachlan Metcalf Chair of Humanities, Boston University, and author of Writing Arctic Disaster: Authorship and Exploration


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Michael Bravo is Senior Lecturer at the University of Cambridge, a Fellow of Downing College, and Head of Circumpolar History and Public Policy Research at the Scott Polar Research Institute. He is the author of Narrating the Arctic (2002) and Arctic Geopolitics and Autonomy (2010).