Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Stephen R. Bown's "White Eskimo"

Stephen R. Bown is a critically acclaimed author of eight literary non-fiction books on the history of science, exploration and ideas, including The Last Viking: The Life of Roald Amundsen.

Bown applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, White Eskimo: Knud Rasmussen's Fearless Journey into the Heart of the Arctic, and reported the following:
I was sceptical about this Page 99 gimmick. But surprisingly, to me at any rate, page 99 actually does cover some of the main themes and the varied style of storytelling of White Eskimo as a whole, particularly if you include the overlapping sentences from page 98 and page 100.

White Eskimo is the biography of the famous Danish-Greenlandic ethnographer and explorer, Knud Rasmussen. He led an incredible life of adventure and danger. His most daring and scientifically important expedition was a 20,000 mile dog sled journey from Hudson Bay to Nome, Alaska over the course of nearly two years. Rasmussen’s lifelong goal was to collect and write down all the oral culture of the Inuit people, their legends, stories, poems, songs and religious beliefs. He knew the world was changing and that the Inuit would not long remain in isolation and easing this transition into a globalized world is one of the themes of Rasmussen’s life. On page 99 I write: “If the process of “civilization” was inevitable, he wanted to do what he could to make it less painful and more on terms controlled by the Inuit.” Most of page 99 details his first efforts to gain Danish government support to establish a trading outpost in the far north of Greenland, which would provide him an excuse to live there and a means to finance his cultural and geographic explorations. That was his serious side.

But Rasmussen was also a character of incredible charisma and bonhomie, with a social intuition that guided him unerringly whether in a snow hut in the Arctic or the halls of power in Copenhagen or New York. His long time adventuring partner Peter Freuchen was a perfect foil to Rasmussen’s sincerity and optimism. When Rasmussen and Freuchen were initially rebuffed by the Danish government, as I write on page 99, Freuchen wrote that he and Rasmussen “ran up against the bureaucrats who asked such asinine questions and made such stupid objections that we knew our chances in that direction were nil... During the negotiations I saw a good deal of human nature at its worst. My respect for the human race lessened.” That style of writing and the salty unvarnished opinions characterize Rasmussen’s escapades throughout his life – a blend of the respectable and the passionate. He was truly a unique personality.
Learn more about the book and author at Stephen R. Bown's website and Facebook page.

My Book, The Movie: The Last Viking.

--Marshal Zeringue