Book Review: Extreme North: A Cultural History


Extreme North: A Cultural History by Bernd Brunner, Translated by Jefferson Chase

Extreme North, translated from the original German by Jefferson Chase, is an examination of what “the North” has meant to different people over time, particularly how and what “the North” meant to people who were not from places they considered to be North. It’s an interesting idea, but for me it just didn’t work. 

For one thing, it’s really Eurocentric, and much of the discussion of cultural ideas of the North have to do with perceptions of the Scandinavian countries, along with Greenland and Iceland, by much of the rest of Europe, particularly Germany and the UK.

Occasionally there is mention made of Canada, mostly in the context of expeditions to the Arctic and North Pole. 

How Russia has at times been viewed as part of the North rather than the East is discussed. 

The Vikings get covered but pretty much only through the lens of 18th and 19th century Europe’s perception of them.

The chapters jumped from one topic to another, mostly arranged in chronological order. In that way the book reads more like a collection of essays rather than a holistic non-fiction work.

I’m not sure what I was expecting from a book subtitled “A Cultural History”, but I guess my expectation was more of a history of the cultures of the people of the northern countries. Instead, this is a history of how outsiders perceived the North and what the North meant within the cultures of those outsiders.

There were occasional interesting stories, and glimpses of history that I wasn’t aware of. For example, there are his accounts of female explorers and his exploration of the antisemitism of the Brothers Grimm. And, there is a whole fascinating section on what the North, particularly the “Nordic” north, meant to the Nazis, and how it became incorporated into their “Aryan race” concept. 

But other than that the book struck me as not all that interesting. Mostly because, as I said, it wasn’t what I was expecting. Sadly then, I can’t recommend it.

RATING: Two Stars ⭐⭐

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Title: Extreme North: A Cultural History

Author: Bernd Brunner

Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company

Publish Date: February 15, 2022 

ISBN-13: 9780393881004

Publisher’s List Price: $27.95 Hardcover (as of 10/2022)