Friday, November 18, 2016

Book Review: "Ice Bear" by Michael Engelhard

Of all the bears of the world, polar bears are probably the most fascinating. Unlike grizzlies and black bears, the isolation of the white bear to the polar region means we mostly have to live vicariously through the work of Arctic scientists willing to venture forth into the bear's icy world in order to learn much about them. This gives the polar bear an almost otherworldly sense of mystery.

Few truly great books have been written about polar bears, certainly not as many as have been written about grizzly bears. Richard Ellis's "On Thin Ice", Nikita Ovsyanikov's "Polar Bears: Living With the White Bear", and Ian Stirling's "Polar Bears: The Natural History of a Threatened Species" come immediately to mind. Now Michael Engelhard's "Ice Bear" joins the ranks as one of the best works devoted to these elusive animals.

Unlike most authors, Engelhard focuses not on the bear's biology but on its cultural history; from myths and legends to religious beliefs and even sexuality; from hunting tales to Arctic expeditions; from cuddly "celebrities" like Knut to the perils and pitfalls of training polar bears for the circus, while presenting wonderful photographs, paintings, and Native arts and crafts along the way. In the end a clear picture is presented of the polar bear as one of the most powerful and resilient animals in the world, not as the anthropomorphized cuddly teddy of human imagination or as the relentless man-eater of Arctic lore and legend.

This was easily one of the best books I've read on the subject of polar bears with information that kept me turning pages. Highly recommended for any bear lover's collection!

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