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From the late-17th to the early 20th century, intrepid explorers from America and Europe risked and sometimes lost their lives exploring the forbidding, uncharted landscapes of the Arctic and Antarctica. What drove these men to undertake these seemingly impossible journeys?

In this deeply researched book, Dippel makes the case that dozens of polar expeditions were motivated less by courageous idealism than personal ambition and national rivalries.

 

He traces the ways in which men of unbridled ambition responded to society’s need for heroes by masking their true intentions behind patriotic sentiments or noble claims about advancing science. In so doing they frequently put their own lives and those of the men in their command at enormous risk. At the same time, they projected an attitude of cultural superiority, looking down on indigenous arctic people. Their disrespect and ignorance of native means of transportation, diet, shelter, and knowledge of the terrain often led explorers into disaster, where men perished from starvation and exposure or nearly lost their minds. In the end, the failure of so many polar expeditions exposed the limits of humanity’s control of nature and helped to undermine faith in inevitable progress.

 

John V. H. Dippel is an independent historian and resident of Salisbury.  He has published books on topics ranging from the plight of Jews in Nazi Germany, to the radicalization of youth in the 1960s, to (most recently) the bizarre weather of 1816. All of them deal with how people respond to great crises and threats to their existence.

 

Copies of his book will be available for signing after his talk