Nansen, Fridtjof

Farthest North. Being the Record of a Voyage of Exploration of the Ship Fram 1893-96

  • First edition, preceding the first Norwegian edition of the same year. The official account of the Fram expedition, “a remarkable achievement in Polar exploration” (PMM) led by the father of modern arctic exploration.

    Born in Christiana (Oslo) in 1861, Fridtjof Nansen trained as a scientist. He earned a PhD in zoology, made important contributions to neurological anatomy, and worked as a natural history curator in Bergen and Oslo. He was also a champion cross-country skier, and combined his scientific interests with a thirst for adventure by becoming the first person to cross the unexplored interior of Greenland, using a novel method - skis. Next he planned an even more ambitious trip to the Arctic, again applying radical new ideas to the challenge. He began with the scientific hypothesis that an ocean current carried polar ice from east to west, and decided that the best way to reach the pole was to intentionally trap his ship in the pack ice near Siberia, live in it for a year or two as it made its way toward the pole, and then set off with skis and dogs for the final leg. Instead of trying to bend the Arctic to his will, he would “take note of the forces of nature and try to work with them and not against them” (Huntford, Nansen, p. 180).

    Nansen’s plans were technologically ingenious. The strength of polar ice could crumple a normal ship, so he devised a revolutionary new type, one with “sloping sides and rounded bilges, completely smooth, rather like an egg cut in half. In this way the ice could not get a grip, and instead of being crushed by the floes she would rise safely under pressure” (Huntford p. 183). He tinkered obsessively with his sledges and skis to adapt them for arctic conditions; designed lighter, more flexible clothing; and was the first polar explorer to adopt the Primus stove. He arranged a wide variety of fresh and preserved food to provide nutritional balance for the crew, and had many items laboratory tested before ordering them. Scurvy had stalked every previous polar voyage, and while Nansen’s theory about its cause was incorrect, the varied diet meant that this was the first polar expedition in which no one was affected. In fact, it was the first such expedition in which every crewman made it back safely - many, including Nansen, having gained weight rather than lost it despite spending nearly three years in the arctic. The Voyage was also one of significant scientific discovery, with the Fram “serving as an oceanographic-meteorological-biological laboratory” that obtained enough data to fill six volumes of scientific observations published on the ship’s return (Nobel Peace Prize biography).

    Though Nansen did not reach the north pole, he achieved what was then the farthest north (86°13.6′N), around 314 km beyond the previous record. He “returned to international acclaim not only for the voyage itself but for its results, proof of a deep Arctic Ocean, free of any land masses or islands, and extensive data on magnetism, zoology, and oceanography. His account of the journey, Farthest North, was a worldwide bestseller and prepared him for an effective life of diplomacy” (Books on Ice).

    Printing and the Mind of Man 384; Books on Ice 5.2

  • ...and of a Fifteen Months’ Sleigh Journey by Dr. Nansen and Lieut. Johansen with an Appendix by Otto Sverdrup Captain of the Fram. About One Hundred and Twenty Full Page and Numerous Text Illustrations, Sixteen Coloured Plates in Facsimile from Dr. Nansen’s Own Sketches... Westminster: Archibald Constable and Company, 1897.

    2 volumes, octavo. Original green cloth, titles and pictorial designs to spines and upper boards gilt, edges untrimmed. Title pages printed in red and black. Etched portrait frontispiece to volume I, photogravure frontispiece to volume II, 16 colour plates, 175 photogravure plates, 92 illustrations within the text, 4 colour folding maps. Contemporary gift inscriptions partially removed from the pastedowns. Bindings rubbed at the extremities with some small bumps at the edges, a few spots to the cloth on the lower board of volume I, joints cracking, light spotting to the edges of the text blocks and occasionally the contents, this affecting volume II more than volume I. Second half of volume II partially unopened. A very good set.

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