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The Last Imaginary Place Paperback – Jan 1 2007

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 7 reviews
25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
Fantastically interesting history book. Aug. 3 2006
By Jessica - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This is one of the most comprehensive historical books I have ever read. I don't know how Robert McGhee crammed such a vast history of such an enormous place into 320 pages. Of course, plenty of things were understated (particularly the Peary-Cook controversy) and a few things were drawn out and at times a bit dry (I found the chapter on Siberia to be slightly less interesting than the other chapters). Mostly though, McGhee is ultimately very fair in how he represents the various places he talks about, from Hudson Bay to Alaska to Spitsbergen to Siberia and beyond. No one region is represented as more important than another one, and reading the book, one comes to realize that all regions of the Arctic have very fulfilling histories.

Stylistically the book is impressive as well. McGhee speaks of Greely and Franklin ways that would spark interest in someone who had no interest in Arctic history. There are many summaries of dramatic events throughout the book, keeping his "human history" consistently interesting. The book, while being comprised of stories, is based wholly on research and historical record, which gives it a textbook feel from time to time, but even the pictures and maps (which, to my amazement, are completely left out of many Arctic-related books) give the book (and stories) a lot of life. In comparison to something like Frozen in Time which was much more science-based, yet easy for anyone to understand, The Last Imaginary Place is another account of a much more extensive history by an author who is extremely passionate about his work. This particular characteristic is not uncommon in today's Arctic writers (though, in previous decades/centuries, much of the accounting of expeditions was BORING).

In the end, this book could have turned out horribly dry and boring, it could have been a neutral history book with no particular feeling involved...instead, The Last Imaginary Place is a book you want to read every page of. There are priceless tidbits of information throughout the book, and from the pages about the Ice Age to Thule to the Vikings and on to 19th & 20th century exploration, there's nothing that can be flipped through without do that would be to miss something not only important, but something that would be enjoyable to read.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
A Fine Overview of Arctic Exploration March 2 2009
By Roger D. Launius - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The arctic has long held a fascination for Europe and North America. It has led to numerous exploration parties and not a little mythology associated with the adventurers who undertook these missions. Archeologist Robert McGhee blends historical analysis with keen observation and strong writing to present a compelling account of Western Civilization's fascination with the Arctic.

McGhee begins with a study of the geology of the Arctic, noting that it was geology that proved that the Earth was older and more dynamic than religionists had argued. The ideal place that documented that fundamental fact was the concept of the Ice Age, and the data demonstrating that was found in the Arctic. He comments, "the fact that we think of the `Ice Age' as an established fact of prehistory is one of the triumphs of nineteenth-century science. For most of that century, science and theology fought an extended battle over the nature of the world and mankind" (p. 12). That realization finally took hold when Arctic explorers brought back evidence supporting it.

From there McGhee proceeds chronologically through the history of the Arctic, focusing successively on the hunter-gatherer tribes that claimed the region as their own, Viking incursion into Greenland and other parts of the northland, the Inuit and their evolution over time, the search for the fables Northwest Passage, and the quest for the pole, and the European quest for power in the geopolitical sweepstakes of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

The expression of a unique history of an exotic Arctic region makes "The Last Imaginary Place" a wonderful reading experience. It is a very fine introduction to the history of the region and its place in Western Civilization.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
"The Last Imaginary Place" is as informed and informative, as it is engaging and entertaining! Jan. 4 2008
By Midwest Book Review - Published on
Format: Paperback
"The Last Imaginary Place: A Human History Of The Arctic World" by Robert McGhee (Curator of Arctic Archaeology at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Ottawa, Canada) is the result of thirty years of research with the native peoples of the Arctic by Robert McGhee who extensively traveled in the region. Superbly written so as to be complete accessible for students of anthropology and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the people and history of the arctic, "The Last Imaginary Place" is filled with fascinating accounts of fur trading, ivory hunting, native whaling, doomed exploration efforts, and the disorienting terrain that has beguiled and imperiled Europeans from the time of their first access to this remote region of the earth down to the present day. Winner of the Canadian Historical Association's 2004 Clio Award for Northern Canadian History, "The Last Imaginary Place" is as informed and informative, as it is engaging and entertaining!
The Last Place, Imagined... March 2 2012
By D. S. Thurlow - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Canadian author Robert McGhee's 2005 "The Last Imaginary Place" is his highly readable human history of the Arctic. An archeologist with decades of field experience in the Far North, McGhee brings to his narrative a sense of continuing wonder at the rugged but beautiful Arctic and of respect for its native inhabitatants.

McGhee starts with the proposition that the Arctic has been consistently portrayed with more imagination than facts by outside observers, beginning at least with the ancient Greeks. The facts may be more interesting, as the author sketches a still evolving thesis of human habitation by successive waves of migrants. Within the North American Arctic, those waves are identified as the ancient Tuniit, the more recent Inuit, and finally various European groups.

McGhee has some interesting thoughts on the interactions between the successive waves of inhabitatants and the effects on the exploration and exploitation of a difficult environment where death is often the consequence of failure. A hidden gem is the account of the little-known journey by Samuel Hearne from Hudson's Bay to the Arctic Ocean and back during 1769-1772, in company with Dene hunters and a rare success among frequently misguided and/or disastrous expeditions. At book's end, he notes the struggle of native Arctic peoples to adapt to outside governance and to the possible effects of climate change.

McGhee offers some strong opinions on the issue of sovereignty in the Far North, and on the still controversial details of several Polar expeditions. The reader may take or leave these as desired. Oddly, McGhee insists on identifying Alaskan Inuit groups as Eskimos, a term considered archaic; his description of development in Alaska is similarly un-nuanced.

"The Last Imaginary Place" is highly recommended as an entertaining and educational read on the human history of the Arctic realm.
A rounded view of humanity in the Arctic Feb. 13 2012
By S. Smith-Peter - Published on
Format: Paperback
This is a really interesting and well-written book about the human presence in the Arctic. I especially liked his treatment of the Inuit. McGhee is going against a tradition of writing about the Inuit as if they're a primitive people who have always lived where they do now and who are all about tradition. Instead, he presents them as a new, tough, conquering people who displaced the Tuniit, the original people of the region, and who then sought contact with Europeans because they needed the iron and metals the latter had. Thus, the Inuit are part of history, not separate from it.

I also was very impressed by how he integrated Russian and Soviet history with Canadian, British and Scandinavian history. Canada was established partly as a result of the initiative of the Muscovy Company. He gives all the details, which are fascinating. The sections on the exploration of the Siberian Arctic are gripping. Both the Pomors, or the Russian maritime peasants, and Europeans played important roles in this. So often works are written strictly within one nation's history that to see them together, acting and reacting to each other, is great.

McGhee is an archaeologist and is really able to bring the deep human history of the Arctic to life. He shows that for the Inuit and other peoples, the Arctic was not some wasteland but a welcoming place that held so many animals as to provide a good life for the people. In contrast, the macho posturing of 19th century British explorers is lightly but firmly put in its place.

If you're interested in the Arctic, this book is definitely worth your time.