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Arctic Dreams

4.2  ·  Rating Details ·  4,440 Ratings  ·  286 Reviews
Barry Lopez's National Book Award-winning classic study of the Far North is widely considered his masterpiece.

Lopez offers a thorough examination of this obscure world-its terrain, its wildlife, its history of Eskimo natives and intrepid explorers who have arrived on their icy shores. But what turns this marvelous work of natural history into a breathtaking study of profou
Paperback, 496 pages
Published October 2nd 2001 by Vintage (first published January 1st 1986)
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Sep 19, 2016 Cody rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016-top-ten, travel
There are so many aspects of this book that demand appreciation. It is the most informative book on the arctic that I have come across to date. Polynynas, paranelia, superior and inferior mirages, narwhal and muskoxen might sound like tedious reading, but in this case you would be mistaken. The arctic is so foreign and unfamiliar to many of us that almost every feature Lopez addresses becomes intriguing.

The book only gets better with each new chapter as Lopez transitions from fauna to landscape
Apr 10, 2014 Kenneth rated it it was amazing
If I could give six-stars or a 5+ I would. That's how special this book is.

It is a difficult one to do justice because it is so many things and all of them wondrous. It is beautiful, rhapsodist and hugely sympathetic yet not sentimental. At its heart it is a celebration of the profusion of life, all manners of life, and it succeeds on every page. Crucially, it is also a meditation on the very concept of landscape and how we view it, explain it and relate to it.

Lopez does not deal in superficia
Jul 31, 2008 Huan-hua rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: lovers of natural history/popular science/travel books
I stumbled on this in 2005, in a little bookstore in Heidelberg specializing in used English-language books. I was just trying to refill my reading material for my trip with something at least marginally interesting, but this turned out to be one of the most stunningly gorgeous books I've ever read--Lopez manages to not only see the hidden beauty of the seemingly barren Arctic landscape, but capture and convey its glory through his prose.
The Arctic has captivated people for centuries, it has held the promise of wealth, is a place of unspoilt beauty whilst being one of the toughest places to survive in. It has drawn explorers and writers, adventurers and artists who use the landscape for inspiration. But it is an incredibly harsh environment; it takes no prisoners.

The celestial light on an arctic cusp

This hostile landscape is a place that Lopez has returned to time and time again to discover the people and animals that navigate a
Aug 18, 2013 Francisco rated it it was amazing
If you've never read any of Barry Lopez' work, here's a quick inaccurate description: He writes about the visible world with the mind of a scientist and the heart of a poet. His descriptions of the arctic, its geography, animals, people is so precise that it reaches beyond physical to that invisible realm that exists between the world and our emotional and spiritual prehension of it. Read his chapter on narwhals, for example, (those unicorn-like whales that seem to have come out a fairy tale) an ...more
Sep 28, 2013 Diane rated it it was amazing
I read this book about 15 years ago and did not like it. Luckily, Mr. Lopez was leading a session at a conference I was attending, so I picked it up again. This time I loved the book – what changed? It must be me since the book is the same edition.

I was impressed by many things. I especially liked his discussions of the land and how different peoples describe and view the land differently. He discusses maps as “an organization of the land according to a certain sense of space and an evaluation
Jun 20, 2014 Ms.pegasus rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone with a serious interest in Arctic ecosystems
The Arctic.... We think of it as a location. It's an inconsequential cap perched on the crown of the familiar Mercator projection of the world. It's a glacial mass anchored in a frigid sea. It's a circular expanse with the magnetic north pole at it's center. It's the area above 66°33' N (the Arctic Circle). As Lopez points out, the magnetic pole is slowly drifting; and there are areas in Scandinavia lying north of the Arctic Circle inhabited by at least one species of lizard and of snake, thanks ...more
Jan 02, 2015 Sarah rated it it was amazing
"It is easy to underestimate the power of a long-term association with the land, not just with a specific spot but with the span of it in memory and imagination, how it fills, for example, one's dreams" (279).

Reading Arctic Dreams, I was filled with longing, hope, no small measure of despair at the technological entanglements of modern life. While one might come to this book underestimating or failing to consider the "power of a long-term association with the land," it is impossible to finish re
Jul 16, 2012 Rebecca rated it it was amazing
A reader could be prone to chills on a sunny March day as spring breaks through, and still be mesmerized by the love Lopez clearly has for a land that routinely has temperatures double digits below zero centigrade. His love of the landscape’s mysterious, often impenetrable serenity, is filled with mirages and challenges for daily survival that suspend a reader’s usual perceptions like a good science fiction.
Slyly, he invites the reader to imagine the polar solstices, learn about the elegant pol
Aug 20, 2013 Josh rated it it was amazing
A thorough examination of the Canadian arctic's wildlife, people, landscape and history. Probably a must-read for the arctic-obsessed. Lopez's writing is outstanding and thoughtful. The arctic is mesmerizing, amazing, and beautiful, but a thoroughly brutal place. The landscape is hospitable only to the supremely well-adapted, but even then will turn on animal or human populations in a way that better climates won't. A stretch of bad days in temperate climates will inconvenience you--in the arcti ...more
T for Tongue-tied
"Whatever evaluation we finally make of a stretch of land [...], we will find it inadequate. The land retains an identity of its own, still deeper and more subtle than we can know. Our obligation toward it then becomes simple to approach with an uncalculating mind, with an attitude of regard. To try to sense the range and variety of its expression - its weather and colors and animals. To intend from the beginning to preserve some of the mystery within it as a kind of wisdom to be experienced, no ...more
Joshua Buhs
Interesting, but unsatisfying. Part of which is me; part the book.

I've known about this book for years and years, but never got around to it. If I had read it when I was 12 or 13, I think I would have considered it one of the best books ever and really sunk into it. I would have been captivated by how smart López seems and tried to memorize so many of the facts he presents, and the stories. Now, not so much.

For all that the book is about connecting to the land, and its intimacies, López has a ve
Mar 30, 2014 Abby rated it it was amazing
“If we are to devise an enlightened plan for human activity in the Arctic, we need a more particularized understanding of the land itself—not a more refined mathematical knowledge but a deeper understanding of its nature, as if it were, itself, another sort of civilization we had to reach some agreement with.”

I would be very pleased, Goodreads, if I could give this book six stars. Can you make that happen for me? Because this book is just too good, too exquisite, too perfect.

I realize I write th
Originally published in 1986, Arctic Dreams is a collection of essays about the northernmost part of the earth, with an examination of the land, wildlife, peoples and history of the Arctic. It was also a National Book Award winner, so what's not to love?

Well, I didn't love it. I was looking to travel (through the book) to the North Pole, observing the wonders of the natural world there. I was happy to receive historical background on Arctic exploration, and a scientific look at the environment.
Jan 18, 2016 Sher rated it it was amazing
Stunning a real 5 for me! The writing is lyrical- a meditation on the Arctic- its animals, its ways and the humans who have interacted with it since the early explorers and also the Eskimos. The chapter on the polar bear and the musk oxen were fantastic. I learned a lot about these animals I did not know. This book captures how the Arctic "captures" the imagination, dreams, and desires of humans.
Shows the Arctic is so much more than a frigid desert- in fact its not barren in any way- its filled
Dec 25, 2016 Laura rated it it was amazing
This was a fascinating look at all aspects that make up the Arctic region. López shows such deep respect for the people and their culture, the wildlife, and the land itself as he writes in great detail about each. He describes the science of different types of ice formations, the mesmerizing play of lighting, and the migratory patterns of the animals that spend time here. One might think this would make for tedious reading but the topic is so interesting and the prose so exquisite that you're ca ...more
Feb 05, 2010 flannery rated it it was amazing
"Eskimos do not maintain this intimacy with nature without paying a certain price. When I have thought about the ways in which they differ from people in my own culture, I have realized that they are more afraid than we are. On a day-to-day basis, they have more fear. Not of being dumped into cold water from an ‘umiak,’ not a debilitating fear. They are afraid because they accept fully what is violent and tragic in nature. It is a fear tied to their knowledge that sudden, cataclysmic events are ...more
Dec 16, 2008 Sarah rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: environmentalists, science geeks, anyone who appreciates (or wants to appreciate) simple beauty
Shelves: favorites
I'm adding this book to my list of favorites. This is an amazing exploration of every aspect of a landscape that I previously had no interest in -- and now I'm completely captivated. Besides making me think the muskox is one of the most amazing animals on the planet, Lopez also made me ponder some deeply philosophical questions regarding the nature of happiness and beauty, and my connection with place and my landscape. It's a long and dense book, but well worth the read.
Jul 31, 2009 Laurie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: NG Traveler
3 stars for the slow parts to slog through, a solid 4 for the rest.

Highlights for me were the chapters on the polar bear, the narwhal, Ice and Light and A Northern Passage. There is pretty much no aspect of the Arctic or of life that Lopez does not touch on. A thought-provoking read that's very easy to lose yourself in.
Aug 18, 2013 Northpapers rated it it was amazing
I tend to feel elated when finishing a book by Barry Lopez. His ardor for landscapes and the vocabulary that flows out of this affection evokes something peaceful in my spirit.

The Arctic deserved a good look and telling by someone who could meditate on it with equal parts scientific rigor and a deeply spiritual orientation toward hope. Lopez was that someone.
Roger Burk
Feb 26, 2017 Roger Burk rated it really liked it
Shelves: other
Lovely writing about the arctic, mainly the Canadian archipelago. About equal parts natural history, current travel vignettes, and exploration history. It makes you want to go there, to see the bleak desolation, brought to life at certain times and places by great herds of caribou, packs of wolves, pods of narwhals, flocks of geese and gulls and guillemots; to visit the vast geography of islands and seas with welcoming Victorian names--Prince of Wales Island, Melville Sound, Devon Island--all of ...more
Claire McAlpine
Arctic Dreams was originally published in 1986 and won the US National Book Award for non-fiction. It is a compilation of around 10 essays, which can be read separately, each one focusing on a different subject, as Lopez focuses on the inhabitants, visitors and four-legged, two-winged migrants of a frozen territory in the North.

Reading his work is a little like being mesmerised by a compelling narrator in a nature documentary, for it is not just the images of the animals and the landscape that a
May 07, 2011 Kerfe rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Where to begin? Lopez covers a lot of ground here, both literally and figuratively.

Through the lens of the Arctic, he urges us to consider our relationship with both the land and its native inhabitants. He uses the alienness of the Far North to contrast the Eurocentric approach to the world with that of one that requires intimate and complex knowledge of, and relation to, the land for survival and growth.

These ideas seem to me to be obvious: we should know by now that just because a culture does
As far back as I can remember, I've had a subtle fascination with the Arctic. I imagine myself wandering over endlessly white expanses of tundra and ice, a perfectly lonely permanent wanderer. In my fantasy, I am somehow detached, like a ghost - no need for food, rest, nor shelter, and with the ability to move quickly enough to gain a tactile sense of the land in giant swaths. I've always loved winter, and I am simply not satisfied with the winter I'm getting here in Wisconsin. I will go to the ...more
Rachel Rochester
Jul 16, 2013 Rachel Rochester rated it really liked it
Interviewing various workers in the mines and oil fields of the arctic region, Lopez identifies a common lament: "They shook their heads over industrial mismanagement, that humorless, deskbound ignorance that brings people and land together in such a way that both the land and the people suffer" (400). It is against just this type of ignorance that Lopez seems to be writing. Lopez seems to believe that to begin know and understand the arctic is the first step toward responsible preservation: a p ...more
Apr 01, 2013 Paula rated it it was amazing
A classic, published in 1986, although I've managed to not read it until now. That's my loss, since Lopez's prose is astonishing, both in its scientific & journalistic precision & in its philosophical, ethical lyricism. In fact, his musings constitute a profoundly useful ethics of respect toward & value-recognition of both land & life in the Arctic (& by extrapolation, all places, species & cultures on Earth). One that assumes the dignity of each being within an ultimatel ...more
Jan 25, 2015 A B rated it liked it

I've had this book sitting in my to-read pile for nearly a year. I wanted to save it for mental relief from the Las Vegas summers. It was actually quite refreshing to read a book about the cold whilst temperatures outside soared cheerfully into triple digits.

The writing is sublime. For those who appreciate fine writing, this book will be up your alley. There is something poetic and yet educational about Mr. Lopez's writing style. His love for the Arctic shines through.

However, the book has virtu
Oct 15, 2009 bup rated it it was ok
Recommended to bup by: Mike!
Shelves: 2009
Well, everybody's reviews, and its 4.3 average rating make me pretty sure I'm missing something here. Maybe I just wasn't in the mood for this book right now, but it seemed to go in many random directions. I thought I was going to get some good Scrabble words out of it, anyway, but iglu and aglu aren't legal.

The book goes over the wildlife, then the history of the various Eskimo (sic) groups there, then touched on oil exploration a little, then the history of European conquest of the Arctic. I k
Steve Smart
May 02, 2016 Steve Smart rated it it was amazing
Superb piece of evocative writing about a unique landscape. It transcends into philosophy and poetry at times, but is grounded in understanding of physical processes of biology and climate. May be a little out of date with current science of the area, but remains a touchstone of clear well sounded thinking. Like its subject, sharp, sparkling, beautiful and strange.
May 19, 2015 Morgane rated it it was amazing
A stunning account of one of the harshest and most mysterious places on Earth. López was diligent in his account of the history, nature, and reality of the Arctic, but he was tender as well. This is non-fiction that reads with the same beauty as poetry. I loved this book.
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Barry Holstun López is an American author, essayist, and fiction writer whose work is known for its environmental and social concerns.

López has been described as "the nation's premier nature writer" by the San Francisco Chronicle. In his non-fiction, he frequently examines the relationship between human culture and physical landscape, while in his fiction he addresses issues of intimacy, ethics an
More about Barry López...

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“No culture has yet solved the dilemma each has faced with the growth of a conscious mind: how to live a moral and compassionate existence when one is fully aware of the blood, the horror inherent in all life, when one finds darkness not only in one’s own culture but within oneself.” 22 likes
“Because you have seen something doesn't mean you can explain it. Differing interpretations will always abound, even when good minds come to bear. The kernel of indisputable information is a dot in space; interpretations grow out of the desire to make this point a line, to give it direction. The directions in which it can be sent, the uses to which it can be put by a culturally, professionally, and geographically diverse society are almost without limit. The possibilities make good scientists chary.” 19 likes
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