Book Review: The Hidden Life Of Ice

The Hidden Life Of Ice: Dispatches From A Disappearing World, by Marco Tedesco with Alberto Flores d’Arcais

How you feel about this book will depend in large part on how you feel about the author’s conceit that the ice of the world is disappearing. From the author’s extrapolation of recent trends (since the banning of chloro-floro carbons that threatened a global cooling panic in the 1970’s), the author assumes that a certain amount of ice in the poles is melting at a certain rate and that this will cause a certain amount of rise in sea levels. Thus the author views the glacial worlds of Greenland and Antarctica as a disappearing world that he wishes to communicate about to the reader through words and photographs. Those who have a high degree of skepticism about the value of contemporary climate modeling will likely find this book wanting, but in the author’s defense, the author is far more nuanced in his understanding of such matters than is generally the case, even to the point of providing undercutting to the most overblown fears and concerns as well as the blame that is often apportioned for supposed anthropogenic climate change. Rather than seeking to promote unpopular and very unlikely political change, the author appears to take his beliefs about climate change seriously enough to communicate a world that he sees as threatened and likely to perish in the mid-term future.

This book is a short one at less than 150 pages and it is divided into eleven short chapters. The book begins with a foreword by Elizabeth Kolbert as well as a prologue that discusses the experiences of the author growing up and deciding to go to Greenland. This is followed by discussions on the origins of ice (1) as well as myths of Greenland from Inuit tales (2). After that the author talks about the surprising color of Greenland (3) as well as forgotten heroes of polar study (4). The author talks about the rise of polar surveillance by governments (5) as well as matters of the icy abyss (6) as well as holes in the ice (7). After that comes a look at the study of the polar camel (8), a welcome oddity, and a look at polar photography (9). The book then closes with a discussion o the northwest passage (10), the author’s view of freedom with regards to the polar world (11), as well as an epilogue, index, and information about the author.

Ice is more interesting than we often think. As someone who has visited glaciers myself, I have pondered on the strange nature of the colors of glacial meltwater, and on the way that ice flows in ways that are not always recognized by others. The author brings a lot more experience and a lot more insight into these elements by virtue of even more familiarity with such things, pointing out even the issue of albedo in glacial melting as being more important than mere temperature gains as well as the way that snow dunes can provide protection from bitter arctic winds. If few people will find themselves spending large amounts of time on glaciers, the author also has some critical things to say about the environmental effects of elite tourism in the poles. There is a strong undercurrent of resentment in this particular book, and it appears as if the author’s attention to the look and description of glacier beauty is meant to provide the reader with a vicarious view of such things while discouraging more people to visit this supposedly vanishing world themselves. Whether or not this aim is a success is hard to say, at this point.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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