Arctic Dreams: Imagination and Desire in a Northern Landscape – Barry Lopez

Stunning. Beautiful. Fascinating: The book, and the places and people, plants and animals, history and future threats it describes.

Don’t be put off by the thickness of the book. If you love ‘other places’ and beautiful, enlightening, thoughtful writing, I think you will love this book.

Robert Macfarlane named it as one of his favourite books, as this excerpt from FiveBooks Interview with Robert Macfarlane explains:

You have described Lopez as one of the most important writers about wilderness. Please tell us about Arctic Dreams.

This book changed my life and really made me become a writer, if any one book did. I remember finding a very battered secondhand copy of it in a bookshop in Vancouver while I was out climbing in the Rockies, in my early twenties.

Put most simply, the book is an account of the Arctic’s anthropological, cultural and natural histories. But it’s also, like all the books on my list, an investigation into how we imagine place, and the more complicated question of how place imagines us – how we are brought to think in certain ways by certain landscapes. It was a bestseller in the 1980s in America, and is still a legendary book for many people. It was part of a surge of extraordinary writing about landscape that occurred in America between the late 1970s and early 1990s.

Lopez is as at ease in explaining the migration paths of narwhals or the spiritual history of early Celtic Christianity as he is with writing in the pristine moment. That combination of an etched sharpness to his imagery – it’s modernist prose-poetry really – with a deep knowledge born of reading and being out in the environment, was utterly inspiring to me. I saw that non-fiction could be as creative and beautiful as any fiction. link: Arctic Dreams: Imagination and Desire in a Northern Landscape – Barry Lopez