The Ice Balloon: S. A. Andrée and the Heroic Age of Arctic Exploration Audiobook, by Alec Wilkinson Play Audiobook Sample

Download The Ice Balloon: S. A. Andrée and the Heroic Age of Arctic Exploration Audiobook

The Ice Balloon: S. A. Andrée and the Heroic Age of Arctic Exploration Audiobook, by Alec Wilkinson Play Audiobook Sample
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Author: Alec Wilkinson Narrator: John Pruden Publisher: Blackstone Publishing Audio Length: Release Date: March 2012 Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download ISBN: 9781481591102

Publisher Description

In this grand and astonishing account, Alec Wilkinson brings us the story of S. A. Andrée, the visionary Swedish aeronaut who, in 1897, during the great age of Arctic endeavor, left to discover the North Pole by flying to it in a hydrogen balloon. Called by a British military officer “the most original and remarkable attempt ever made in Arctic exploration,” Andrée’s expedition was followed by nearly the entire world, and it made him an international legend.


The Ice Balloon begins in the late nineteenth century, when nations—compelled by vanity, commerce, and science—competed with one another for the greatest discoveries and newspapers covered every journey. Wilkinson describes how in Andrée several contemporary themes intersected. He was the first modern explorer—the first to depart for the Arctic unencumbered by notions of the romantic age and the first to be equipped with the newest technologies—but no explorer had ever left with more uncertainty regarding his fate, since none had ever flown over the horizon and into the forbidding region of ice.


In addition to portraying the period, The Ice Balloon gives us a brief history of the exploration of the northern polar regions, both myth and fact, including detailed versions of the two record-setting expeditions just prior to Andrée’s—one led by US Army lieutenant Adolphus Greely from Ellesmere Island, the other by Fridtjof Nansen, the Norwegian explorer who initially sought to reach the pole by embedding his ship in the pack ice and drifting toward it with the current.


Woven throughout is Andrée’s own history and how he came by his brave and singular idea. We also get to know Andrée’s family, the woman who loved him, and the two men who accompanied him—Nils Strindberg, a cousin of the famous playwright, with a tender love affair of his own, and Knut Fraenkel, a willing and hearty young man.


Andrée’s flight and the journey—based on the expedition’s diaries and photographs, which were dramatically recovered thirty-three years after the balloon came down—along with Wilkinson’s research, provide a book filled with suspense and adventure, a haunting story of high ambition and courage made tangible with the detail, beauty, and devastating conditions of traveling and dwelling in “the realm of Death,” as one Arctic explorer put it.

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  • “Alec Wilkinson’s writing is so flawless and engaging that I’d read him on a packed subway at rush hour.”

    - Sebastian Junger, award-winning author of The Perfect Storm and War
  • “Wilkinson…writes with insight and flair, artfully interleaving Andrée’s story with a brief history of Arctic exploration…[His] prose style suits the spare polar landscape, making his occasional poetic touches even more effective…And Wilkinson doesn’t get bogged down in too much detail. He understands that the value of polar stories isn’t to be found in guy ropes and provisions. It lies elsewhere, in our endless love of discovery and the drama of being human.”

    - New York Times Book Review
  • “Alex Wilkinson takes his place in the first rank of literary journalists…One is reminded of Naipaul, Mailer, and Agee.”

    - Philip Gourevitch, Philadelphia Inquirer
  • “Fabulous…Readers meet ‘a parade of fanatics’ who attempt to reach the Pole, discover what is there, and return alive.”

    - Boston Globe
  • “[A] gripping account of what has been called the heroic age of Arctic exploration.”

    - Seattle Times
  • “[Wilkinson’s] superb storytelling skills shine on every page. The descriptions that Andrée and his expedition mates wrote about the harsh but stunning Arctic landscape and the slow, agonizing march to their inevitable deaths make for riveting armchair reading.”

    - Minneapolis StarTribune
  • “Wilkinson gives us not only an exhilarating account of Swedish engineer S. A. Andrée’s ill-fated expedition, he offers a finely nuanced psychological portrait of a unique race of men—the Victorian-era Arctic explorers—and the age that produced them…[A] rare work of nonfiction whose sublimely understated writing rivals the inherent drama of the subject matter.”

    - Toronto Star
  • “Once in a while you come across a book that so fully transfixes your imaginative gaze it ceases to become a book but simply a story.”

    - Daily Beast
  • “Wilkinson’s anecdotal narrative is captivating, and he deftly conjures images of forbidding ice-white landscapes. A portrait not only of a man, but of an age, the book is packed with technological, geographic, cultural, and scientific tidbits…A thrilling account of a remarkable man.”

    - Publishers Weekly (starred review)
  • “A writer known for discerning portraiture, Wilkinson here probes the personality of Swedish explorer Salomon Andrée, who, along with two companions, disappeared in an 1897 attempt to discover the North Pole by balloon…[A] fine addition to the annals of polar exploration.”

    - Booklist (starred review)
  • “Entertaining and extremely well-written, this captivating story about an obscure Arctic expedition is an essential purchase for all avid readers of exploration and polar literature. Highly recommended.”

    - Library Journal (starred review)
  • “Entertaining…What makes this more than another adventure story is Wilkinson’s exploration of mankind’s compulsion to reach the extreme points of the Earth, despite all the absurd and obvious risks.”

    - editorial review
  • “Wilkinson, ever elegant and thorough, fleshes out his account by delineating the previous expeditions of Greely and Nansen in order to get at the motivations in the minds of this ‘parade of fanatics heading for the deep places’…Beautifully focused and controlled.” 

    - Kirkus Reviews


  • An Amazon Best Book of the Month, January 2012
  • A Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2012: Nonfiction
  • A New York Times Editor’s Choice

Customer Reviews

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  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5

    " I love reading books like this on vacation. A cancelled connection and a few hours spent in an airport just doesn't seem so bad when you're reading about a trek across the ice in almost complete darkness, dealing with toes falling off due to frostbite, and having to eat the sled-dogs (or worse!) in order to avoid starvation. S.A Andree had the brilliant idea to float a hot air balloon to the (as yet undiscovered) North Pole, thus, in theory, avoiding all that sledging around on ice floes. His journey does not end well. This is a harrowing account of a little remembered figure of Arctic Exploration, highly recommended for all modern day travelers! "

    - Christiane, 2/16/2014
  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5

    " I loved this book, read it in two days. Harrowing stuff, but well-written and sensitive. "

    - Jennifer, 2/12/2014
  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5

    " The book is fascinating in that it delves deeply into what draws any of us to move toward the unknown, what makes us want or need to explore uncharted territory. Sometimes it's simple vanity, sometimes it's curiosity and intellect, and sometimes it's the need to prove something to oneself. The book uses S. A. Andree's tragic attempt to reach the North Pole in a balloon as a frame, and within that frame packs a number of other narratives related to arctic exploration. What I wanted, in the end, was a better sense of Andree, but ultimately, that would have been impossible - once he and his companions launched, there was little record of them, save for the diaries each of the three kept, and the few photographs they took, which were discovered with their bodies sometime in the 1930's. "

    - William, 1/31/2014
  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5

    " Yet another story of arctic and Antarctic exploration that didn't work out! The trauma and suffering that the early explorers went thru is almost unbelievable. This is a great story, well written and well documented, lots of great back ground information about contemporary explorations. "

    - Bart, 1/25/2014
  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5

    " This book was much more about a bunch of other random arctic explorers than it was about Andree. I understand creating context, but by the time I got to hearing about Andree and the balloon trip, it seemed way too short and underdeveloped. Also the other stories jump around too much and are very disjointed. The only reason this gets 2 stars is because of my weird love for reading about people freezing and starving and stranded on ice. "

    - Bonnie, 1/23/2014
  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5

    " A bit slow to begin with, but once you get to the real story of Andre'e assembles the balloon and puts his adventure into play it becomes a fascination of mind and spirit - a well written tale that keeps the reader on the edge of his seat where you can vicariously ride along (safely). "

    - Jack, 1/23/2014
  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5

    " Very interesting time period. I enjoyed all of the stories about these explorers. I really liked the quote about exploring being planned and an adventure when things when awry. Overall though the main narrative was almost secondary to the time and the other explorers. By the time it got to the main balloon tale, the story was a little anticlimatic. "

    - Eric, 1/17/2014
  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5

    " Very dry and documentary like but still impressive stories and is very well researched. Shows the strength of the will to survive and be the first at something! "

    - Nahom, 1/17/2014
  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5

    " Who'd have thunk some crazy Swede would try to fly over the north pole in a hydrogen balloon in 1897. This book is filled with all the horror of artic exploration. The author talks about much more than the balloon expedition. He chronicles many other artic expiditions, most of which end in tragidy. "

    - Nate, 1/14/2014
  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5

    " Extraordinary. I'm a fan of the polar explorers and these folks rank right up there with Cherry. Mind boggling ill fated adventure. Odd that Andree lacks the recognition he deserves. Great find. "

    - Chris, 12/27/2013
  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5

    " This actually included several other accounts of polar exploration besides Andree's hot air balloon attempt, which was fine by me. I cannot get enough of survival stories--ice, jungle, sea, you name it. "

    - Beth, 12/24/2013
  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5

    " An interesting story to be told but sadly a very poorly written book. "

    - Ross, 12/14/2013
  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5

    " I love anything to do with Arctic exploration. (I keep Shackleton's memoirs on my desk. Writers need to know about Endurance.) This was a fascinating story with complicated characters and a mystery at its heart. "

    - Susan, 12/1/2013
  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5

    " LOTS of interesting facts and tales of exploration/adventure in the Arctic. The main story sometimes got bogged down in the author's addition of other explorers and details. Wouldn't recommend it for a cold night's reading! "

    - Dorothy, 11/23/2013
  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5

    " A remarkable story about the determination to reach the North Pole. Although Andree and his balloon is the overarching theme, we are introduced to a variety of explorers and their efforts to explore the arctic. "

    - Heather, 7/17/2013
  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5

    " I had lofty hopes for this, as I have read Wilkinson in The New Yorker for many years and have enjoyed his earlier books. But this never really engaged me. It seems to occupy an uncomfortable middle ground between serious history and quirky nonfiction. "

    - Shawn, 5/28/2013
  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5

    " The thought of venturing over the Arctic in a hot-air balloon is just about the craziest thing I can imagine, but even more compelling was the author's retelling of many of the equally brash assaults on the Pole in the 19th century. Not a textbook historical account, but interesting nonetheless. "

    - Ann, 1/23/2013
  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5

    " A well researched book on the Andree Expedition which sought to be the first to the north pole by traveling via balloon. Not only does it tell the story well but give a great overview of the age of polar exploration and the lengths taken and hardships endured by those who ventured forth. "

    - Jim, 9/27/2012
  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5

    " It's difficult to get through any book that lacks passion but this one was especially difficult because the subject matter should have made dullness impossible. "

    - Stacy, 6/9/2012
  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5

    " A great book - easy reading. I enjoyed it very much. "

    - Anne, 3/30/2012
  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5

    " This ought to have been a better story but it seems there was actually very little information. Instead Wilkinson turns this into a study of Arctic exploration, cutting back and forth between accounts. This is a common style but it didn't work for me this time. "

    - Thomas, 3/29/2012

About the Author

Alec Wilkinson began writing for the New Yorker in 1980. Before that he was a policeman in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, and before that a rock-and-roll musician. He has published nine other books—two memoirs, two collections of essays, three biographical portraits, and two pieces of reporting—most of which first appeared in the New Yorker. His honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Lyndhurst Prize, and the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award. He lives with his wife and son in New York City.

About the Narrator

John Pruden is an Earphones Award–winning audiobook narrator. His exposure to many people, places, and experiences throughout his life provides a deep creative well from which he draws his narrative and vocal characterizations. His narration of The Killing of Crazy Horse by Thomas Powers was chosen by the Washington Post as a Best Audiobook of 2010.