Top critical review
Good but frustrating at times
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on February 14, 2012
The Ice Balloon tells the story of S.A. Andrée and his attempt to cross the North Pole in a balloon in 1897. The subtitle, the Heroic Age of Arctic Exploration, is a bit too ambitious for this volume and the examples chosen by Wilkinson do not, in my opinion, do much to illuminate Andrée's story.
For more than 25 years ago, after watching the film The Flight of the Eagle, I have longed to learn more about the ill-fated polar balloon flight of S.A. Andrée. On that topic, Wilkinson does an admirable job. Andrée is mostly overlooked as a quirky footnote in most good histories of polar exploration. Wilkinson demonstrates that Andrée was not a kook, but a man with a singular passion to seriously pioneer air travel with balloons. With the hindsight of history, we may scoff at how anyone could come up with such a ludicrous idea, but Wilkinson demonstrates how it was looked upon as a serious venture at the time. We get an intimate look into his life and one of his two companions, Nils Strindberg. Wilkinson does a great service to bring together sources, both obscure and long out of print, that puts the adventure of the ice balloon into proper historical context.
My one quibble with Wilkinson is in the choices he uses for the Heroic Age parts of the book. As an overview of the age, the expedition selections--Greely, Nansen, and a survivor of Hall/Polaris--are neither comprehensive enough to encompass a discussion of an "age" nor do they add much if any insight into Andrée's quest. Those sections, it seems to me are intended for readers almost completely unfamiliar with the history of polar exploration. Although the book is short, I believe it would have been more effective if it had been shorter.