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The Ice at the End of the World by Jon Gertner

When people tell you “this is an extraordinary book” their opinion is naturally subjective. Your ultimate opinion will depend on the level of interest you have in the topic and the ability of the author to engage you.

Let me therefore say – at the outset – Jon Gertner’s epic book about the history of Greenland and the way it informs our future is extraordinary. Take that as you will.

If, like me, you are fascinated by arctic exploration and have hungrily devoured books on the subject too many to mention. And if you are also passionately interested in climate change, then the intersection of those topics in this book will fascinate you.

But even if your interests and obsessions do not lay in any of these topics, and you simply adore exquisite writing and armchair travel wrapped up in history lessons that are stranger than fiction, then this is a book for you.

I loved everything about it – from the cover to Gertner’s own backstory, to the quirkiness and heroism of the early Greenland explorers, to the meticulously detailed erosion of indigenous culture.

I was – in turns – awed and appalled. Particularly when it came to the 20th century assault by the USA on this, the world’s largest island. For it is there, in spectacular detail that the arrogance of colonisers worldwide can be most clearly seen.

For it is not just in the assault on the indigenous people and their rights to their own sacred land, but also their ability to sensitively manage its ecology which are casually usurped by colonists. The ominous and ignorant assault on our planet and future well-being by these interlopers is spelled out here.

As the Greenland ice melts at record speed, the land beneath gives up its secrets. Here are the bodies of explorers and intriguing artifacts. Here, also, are underground bunkers crammed with toxic waste.

Is this the harmless detrious of derring-do exploration, or the calamitous breakdown of civilisation caused by ignorance and the overt exploitation of the very thing that should sustain us?

The answer is probably subjective.

Reviewed by Peta Stavelli

Allen and Unwin. $45


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