January 27, 2012 9:53 pm

North Pole by air

SA Andrée’s remarkable attempt to discover one of the last unmapped places on Earth aboard a hydrogen balloon

The Ice Balloon: One Man’s Dramatic Attempt to Discover the North Pole by Balloon, by Alec Wilkinson, Fourth Estate, RRP£14.99, 288 pages

 

It is fitting for a man both fastidious about doing things the “right” way yet willing to be an iconoclast that SA Andrée’s favourite maxim was: “Be careful of health, but not of life.”

Andrée was head of the Technical Department of the Swedish Patent Office from 1885 until he “embraced modernity by trying to use a half-ancient conveyance in an innovative way” on July 11 1897: he took off in a hydrogen balloon to search for the North Pole. Of the thousand or so adventurers who set out to discover one of the last unmapped places on Earth, at least 750 died. But only Andrée tried with a balloon. His remains were discovered in 1930 alongside his expedition diary.

In The Ice Balloon, Alec Wilkinson, a staff writer for The New Yorker, tells Andrée’s remarkable story while also allowing those of other explorers and their ill-fated expeditions to float gracefully through its pages.

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