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Arctic Dreams [Paperback]

Barry Lopez
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct. 2 2001
Barry Lopez's National Book Award-winning classic study of the Far North is widely considered his masterpiece.

Lopez offers a thorough examination of this obscure world-its terrain, its wildlife, its history of Eskimo natives and intrepid explorers who have arrived on their icy shores. But what turns this marvelous work of natural history into a breathtaking study of profound originality is his unique meditation on how the landscape can shape our imagination, desires, and dreams. Its prose as hauntingly pure as the land it describes, Arctic Dreams is nothing less than an indelible classic of modern literature.

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Arctic Dreams + A Naturalist's Guide to the Arctic
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From Amazon

Based on 15 extended trips to the Canadian far north over a five-year period, Arctic Dreams celebrates the mysteries of what documentarians fondly call "last frontiers." Such places are everywhere in danger of destruction in the interest of ever-elusive economic progress, but Lopez writes no jeremiads. Instead, he aims to foster a kind of learned understanding of wild places, in this case the vast, scarcely knowable northern landscape. Writing of the natural history of the Arctic and its inhabitants--narwhals, polar bears, beluga whales, musk oxen, and caribou among them--Lopez draws powerful lessons from the land and imparts them assuredly and gracefully. Arctic Dreams deservedly won a National Book Award in 1986 when it was first published. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

This is one of the finest books ever written about the Far North, warmly appreciative and understanding of the natural forces that shape life in an austere landscape. The prize-winning author (Of Wolves and Men spent four years in Arctic regions: traveling between Davis Strait in the east and Bering Strait in the west, hunting with Eskimos and accompanying archeologists, biologists and geologists in the field. Lopez became enthralled by the power of the Arctic, a power he observes derives from "the tension between its beauty and its capacity to take life." This is a story of light, darkness and ice; of animal migrations and Eskimos; of the specter of development and the cultural perception of a region. Examining the literature of 19th century exploration, Lopez finds a disassociation from the actual landscape; explorers have tended to see the Arctic as an adversary. Peary and Stefansson left as a troubling legacy the attitude that the landscape could be labeled, then manipulated. Today, he contends, an imaginative, emotional approach to the Arctic is as important as a rational, scientific one. Lopez has written a wonderful, compelling defense of the Arctic wilderness. Illustrations. BOMC main selection.
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Desert Island book April 27 2004
Funny that a book about the Arctic would be on my "Desert Island" list, but this is one of the most effecting things I've read in my life. It's one thing to write a book about a region that explains it to the reader. It's quite another thing to write a book about a region that truly makes you feel as if you are there, that you understand it, that you "get it". The Eskimos have something like 25 words for snow. They can draw incredibly detailed maps of coastlines, from memory. On and on, the people and places are introduced to you, like visitors to your home, and you really begin to understand what it is to live in such a cold, beautiful place. The story of one Eskimo hunter will never leave me: he was hunting, and somehow became stranded on a broken off piece of ice. It floated away, with him on it, into the mist. All he had was his knife, made of bone. His friends searched for him, to no avail, and he was given up for dead. But he came back, years later, in a kayak he'd made, fully outfitted with warm clothes he'd also made, fat and happy and completely in tune with his environment, absolutely as at home there as the polar bear. He could make everything he needed, just from what this supposedly "barren" wasteland provided. That may not sound like much, but put yourself in his shoes (or mukluks) and you'll begin to feel the cold and the quiet close in around you.
That's what this book does for you. It puts you there.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fine writing Feb. 27 2004
An account of the American Arctic based on the author's own travels and a survey of the biology, ecology and history of the region. There is a tree-hugging, save-the-endangered-species,motif. (Don't get me wrong -I love trees and whales and things). He is rather solemn and philosophical with a lot of fine writing about the wonders of nature lifting us above the mundane. Sometimes he falls into the traps of fine writing, such as impressive long lists of plants, birds and animals, and misuse of words such as "mesic" and "adumbrate". It is a mine of information which I suppose is mostly accurate although I hadn't heard before that Walsingham was a duke or that Vitus Bering was a Dutchman.
I had mixed feelings aout his attiude towards the Eskimos. His account idealizes the nomadic hunting existence and it is sometimes unclear whether he is talking about present-day Inuit or drawing upon older accounts. He only once mentions alcohol as a problem and does not mention disputes with other native Americans, even when desribing Hearne's travels.
The description is largely limited to America and the bibliography has no Russian sources. He often uses Inuit words but his review of Arctic prehistory draws only on archeological evidence and is weak on linguistics and says nothing about the Chukchi language and Asian-American language links. DNA and blood groups are not mentioned.
I wouldn't make all those niggling criticisms about what got left out if the book did not set itself a high standard of comprehensiveness. It's virtually a one volume encyclopedia of the Arctic full of fascinating facts, vivid firsthand accounts, and splendid writing.
By the way, one arctic question's been bugging me since I was ten years old (the teacher didn't know the answer then and Lopez doesn't have it). What time is it at the North Pole?
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"Arctic Dreams" was recommended to me by a friend before I went on an Alaskan adventure a few years ago. This book expanded my vision of nature, and turned me on to the exquisite writing of Barry Lopez, who won the 1986 National Book Award for this classic work on the wild regions of the far north. "Arctic Dreams" is an extraordinary celebration of Arctic life and landscape which takes the reader on a journey to places rarely visited by man. Lopez' narrative does have a dreamlike quality, not only in its descriptions of nature at its most surreal, but in the absolute beauty of the writing itself. He does indeed capture the foreign reality of Arctic life, and death, with the loving care of an artist who places each brushstroke carefully on a canvas, bent on bringing the vision before him to others.
Mr. Lopez made a number of extended trips to Siberia, Greenland, and northern Canada, including Baffin Island, to observe the flora and fauna of the region - polar bears, killer whales, caribou, narwhals - as well as the spectacular Arctic landscape. He experienced eerie encounters with the aurora borealis, massive migrating icebergs, solar and lunar light, halos and coronas. And he experienced both the potential for catastrophic danger and the remarkable beauty that the Arctic land and sea offers. "Spring storms can sweep hundreds of thousands of helpless infant harp seals into the sea" - juxtaposed with, "A tiny flower blooms in a field of snow touched by the sun's benevolent light." Through Mr. Lopez' eyes the breathtaking experience of the Arctic landscape and the people who inhabit it become palpably real.
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Of all the books I've read on the artcic and antarctic, this stands out for its absolute precision of description. To see a landscape with Lopez' eyes, you would have to spend a lot of time looking, and absorbing what you saw, until you knew every inch of it with your eyes shut. So it's appropriate that when he describes things, the descriptions take time to write, they are precise, and thorough, and need to be read slowly. Any less would not convey the strangeness and unfamiliarity of the place. Lopez reminded me that many times, a day's aimless wandering about, just thinking about what you see, has as great a value as a day seeing the sights.
My edition has no photos, which is appropriate as the verbal description is superb. If you read this book, keep the internet handy, to use search engines to find photos of the places he and things he writes about. It's like having a limitless dictionary to hand, and with subject matter as unfamiliar as this, it helps tremendously. One could say that the book was 25 years ahead of its time.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars On being a polar bear
I'm not sure just where the desire comes in here unless it's to promote or develop the reader's desire to see the Arctic for her- himself, but the imagination is the reader's. Read more
Published on July 6 2002 by R. Tiedemann
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating information
Barry Lopez's Arctic Dreams is a fascinating, poetic trip through the Arctic landscape, its people and sturdy animals. I loved reading this book from the comfort of my armchair.
Published on July 2 2002 by Barbara Spring
1.0 out of 5 stars Drags on and on.
I have read numerous book on the Arctic, and this one, by far, is the worst. The reviews I'd read spoke of this sparking a love for the Arctic and inspiring them to learn more... Read more
Published on June 28 2002 by Rick
5.0 out of 5 stars I started fantasizing about moving North.
I hate cold weather. I love trees and sunshine. But this book destroyed me. I couldn't quit reading, and next thing I knew, I had a new love; I love the Arctic. Read more
Published on Nov. 7 2001 by Min Byong Chang
5.0 out of 5 stars Arctic dreaming in the Arizona desert.
In the book that first got me hooked on his writing, Barry Lopez writes, "I looked out over the Bering Sea and brought my hands folded to the breast of my parka and bowed from... Read more
Published on June 21 2001 by G. Merritt
5.0 out of 5 stars Arctic Dreams
A must for the reader who appreciates the beauty of a suttle landscape and the adaptations animals and people make to be at home in such a place. Read more
Published on June 16 2001
5.0 out of 5 stars Arctic as Desert
It's been some years ago now that I read Arctic Dreams. I found Lopez's writing powerful and gripping; I had to read more of his work and soon did. Read more
Published on April 21 2001 by Leland M. Searles
5.0 out of 5 stars Barry Sold Me
Barry Lopez probably does not think of himself as a salesman but his book, "Artic Dreams: Imagination & Desire in a Northern Landscape" sold me on the artic. Read more
Published on Dec 19 2000
4.0 out of 5 stars Beyond the Pale; Notes from the Crytal Land
Lopez' earlier slim volumes, "River Notes" and "Desert Notes" pale in coparison to this book which centers around an excursion into the Arctic, a region... Read more
Published on Sept. 18 2000 by jack schaaf
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