It is difficult to imagine Earth as largely uncharted given how so many of us have Google Maps available at our fingertips
today. A mere 100 years ago, Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen earned a legacy as arguably the greatest arctic explorer in an age of unprecedented adventure into the earthís polar regions.
Within 20 years, Amundsen claimed the last great geographical mysteries for himself: the Northwest passage, the Northeast Passage, the North Pole and the South Pole.
This was a tough man with remarkable physical strength and technical skills, earning his fame traversing the most fearsome and dangerous lands. He garnered international acclaim and celebrity but also spent much of his life running away from creditors and ex-wives. It is either a testament to the manís skill or just sheer luck that Amundsen was afforded so many close calls--humorous and otherwise--that it was a miracle he lived as long as he did.
Such a notable life was well documented--including by Amundsen himself--but thanks for Stephen R. Bownís book, The Last Viking, the uninitiated
gain a compelling and enjoyable introduction to the man and his adventures.
Bown writes Amundsenís story with a sharp eye to whatís important. He avoids the dirge of childhood memories that often bog down biographies. Itís not too far into the book when Bown shares the story of an early training expedition that nearly left Amundsen trapped in an icy tomb, struggling to move and breathe as his brother worked to dig him out. Bown provides enough technical information to give the adventures the tangible details to explain how physically and mentally demanding these explorations were, in addition to Amundsenís personal growth as an explorer.
Amundsenís life is without a doubt fascinating, and Bown does it a service by getting out of the way and just telling the story. At about 300 pages,
this is a pleasurable, entertaining read that never overstays its welcome. Amundsenís dogged ambition and tireless work ethic are inspiring.