The Last Viking unravels the life of the man who stands head and shoulders above all those who raced to map the last corners of the world. In 1900, the four great geographical mysteries—the Northwest Passage, the Northeast Passage, the South Pole, and the North Pole—remained blank spots on the globe. Within twenty years Roald Amundsen would claim all four prizes. Renowned for his determination and technical skills, both feared and beloved by his men, Amundsen is a legend of the heroic age of exploration, which shortly thereafter would be tamed by technology, commerce, and publicity. Féted in his lifetime as an international celebrity, pursued by women and creditors, he died in the Arctic on a rescue mission for an inept rival explorer.
Stephen R. Bown has unearthed archival material to give Amundsen's life the grim immediacy of Apsley Cherry-Garrard's The Worst Journey in the World, the exciting detail of The Endurance, and the suspense of a Jon Krakauer tale. The Last Viking is both a thrilling literary biography and a cracking good story.
The discoverer of the South Pole and the first explorer to reach the North Pole, Amundsen's exploits entertained the world for decades during the early 20th century. But today he is arguably less well-known than his contemporary Ernest Shackleton, a situation that Bown aims to rectify with this captivating account of the Norwegian's extraordinary life. Amundsen's drive to witness the undiscovered began in childhood, when he would sleep with the windows open to acclimate to the cold and ski during snowstorms through the hills and mountains near Oslo to prepare for future harsh unknowns. He dropped out of university to acquire sailing experience and ultimately become a sea captain, enabling him to command his own ship. Amundsen treated his first expedition, the crossing of the Northwest Passage, like a military operation, an approach he'd employ in all of his adventures, anticipating nearly every possible complication or mishap. This painstaking method allowed him to prevail time and again whether that involved keeping his crew alive while wintering for two years in the Arctic ice or beating better-financed competitors. Years later, he again surmounted huge obstacles, securing critical financing for a nearly aborted North Pole expedition and overcoming near bankruptcy, press hostility, and family feuding. Bown makes a compelling case that Amundsen deserves renewed recognition for his outstanding achievements.