Arctic Dreams

This love letter to wonder (496 pages) was published in October of 2001 by Vintage Books USA. The book takes you to the Arctic. David read Arctic Dreams and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if he didn't recommend it.

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Arctic Dreams

Barry Lopez

In this 1986 National Book Award winner, author Barry Lopez does everything he can to transport you into the ice and wind with polar bears, narwhals, and 1000 miles of sea and glaciers. Snowflakes drift across the pages as you read.

Lopez spent five years exploring the Arctic as a field biologist. This immersive work weaves science, history, and his own travels — all told with keen insight and the gift of a storyteller’s sense of detail and drama. Each chapter dives into a different aspect of the Arctic: polar bears, musk ox, aurora borealis, the sea. In one moving segment, Lopez walks around a snowfield, trying to see the world the way an Inuit might. There’s plenty of teaching going on, but all of the detail is presented with an infectious sense of wonder.

As the history and culture of indigenous peoples unfolds — along with the narratives of doomed polar explorers — Lopez strives to understand the mystic and irresistible pull of the Arctic. He explores how land shapes people, inside and out; the way our stories and dreams are informed by the landscapes we’ve seen. The Arctic is rich in imagery and metaphor and illusion — and cold, hard reality. The whiteness and bottomless dark make things appear and disappear and seem larger and smaller than they are. Metaphor and story run delightfully rampant.

Through evocative language, personal insight, and deep empathy, Lopez explains his relationship with the Arctic, his love for this place, and why the Arctic is important to all of us. He’s very convincing.

There are no shadows. Space has no depth. There is no horizon. The bottom of the world disappears. On foot, you stumble about in missed stair-step fashion. It is precisely because the regimes of light and time in the Arctic are so different that this landscape is able to expose in startling ways the complacency of our thoughts about land in general. — Barry Lopez

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