Monday, January 11, 2016

Stephen R. Bown

Stephen R. Bown is a critically acclaimed author of eight literary non-fiction books on the history of science, exploration and ideas, including The Last Viking: The Life of Roald Amundsen.

Bown's latest book is White Eskimo: Knud Rasmussen's Fearless Journey into the Heart of the Arctic.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
I’m always reading a handful of books at the same time, a good blend of fiction and non-fiction, mostly history and biography.

One book that particularly stands out for me this season is Bee Time by Mark Winston.

This book isn't really about bees - while not exclusively anyway. It is filled with metaphors, about life in general and humanity specifically. It isn't a quick superficial overview of the natural history of bees, or even a detailed comprehensive study of bees. But it is a wide-ranging exploration ideas related to bees and humans and the relationship between us and them, in art, food, science, agriculture. Winston is a lifelong scientist, a bee specialist not-surprisingly, who has distilled his life's work into this surprisingly erudite and fascinating book. I can't recommend it enough if you are looking something thought provoking and philosophical about the natural world. It is very rarely that a book that purports to be about a specific subject transcends the subject matter to become something more holistic and universal.

I’m also just at the starting gate of a reading marathon for research for my next writing project: Island of the Blue Foxes: Disaster and Triumph on the World’s Greatest Scientific Expedition. It will be about the epic 18th century undertaking variously known as the Second Kamchatka Expedition or the Great Northern Expedition, from St. Petersburg across Siberia by land and then by ship across the Pacific to discover Alaska and open the Pacific fur trade. Led by the famous Danish sea captain Vitus Bering, it involved over 3,000 people and cost Peter the Great over one-sixth of his empire’s annual revenue. On the return voyage they were beset by scurvy and terrifying storms that resulted in shipwreck on a deserted, uncharted arctic island in the Aleutian chain just before winter. Dozens perished miserably during one of the most ghastly trials of suffering in the annals of maritime and arctic history. While it doesn’t sound like uplifting reading, what a thrilling adventure story to enjoy from my comfy home! Now I just have to read thirty more books and write the manuscript.
Learn more about the book and author at Stephen R. Bown's website and Facebook page.

My Book, The Movie: The Last Viking.

The Page 99 Test: White Eskimo.

--Marshal Zeringue