I like to read about science in history. I've always enjoyed books (both fiction and non-fiction) about explorers, and the early days of the Royal Geographic Society. I liked the parts of Bill Bryson's book A Short History of Nearly Everything where he talks about the pioneers of archeology and anthropology. A few years ago I tried reading Andrea Barrett's Voyage of the Narwhal, a novel about arctic exploration. but found myself overwhelmed by its detail. I had hoped that this new book, One Day the Ice Will Reveal All its Dead would work better for me, and in some ways it did (but not all).
I found this book via Maxine's web site Petrona. Maxine links to the author, Clare Dudman's web site, and Clare has left comments here on my blog. When I saw that her novel was about Alfred Wegener, the German scientist who developed the theory of continental drift, I was intrigued. Wegener was also a meteorologist when the discipline was still in its infancy, he and his brother were record setting balloonists, and he explored and mapped Greenland. What an interesting guy!
Dudman's prose is lovely and poetic, but (like Barrett's book) there's a lot of information here, especially about Greenland, and about ice. Lots and lots about ice. Greenland is cold, snowy, icy, and Wegener made several trips there. Ice caves. Glaciers. Open water. Icebergs. The sled dogs. The sleds. The snow shoes. Frostbite. More ice. Brrrrr.
I really liked this book when it focused on Wegener as a young man and a scholar in early 20th century Europe. I liked his wife, and his sister, and his mother, and could have heard more about them. I was also surprised to discover that his theories about Pangaea and plate tectonics were initially rejected, and that he struggled in vain to get them recognized; indeed he died long before they became accepted.
But I got awfully bogged down in all that ice, and to be honest, found myself skimming those parts toward the end. I will say, however, that Dudman did an excellent job of conveying the extreme conditions endured by the Greenland explorers; my respect for everyone involved in polar expeditions has increased greatly. We have easy lives here, in the world where all the maps are already made.
(Book 21, 2007)