Behind the great polar explorers of the early twentieth century - Amundsen, Shackleton, Scott in the South and Peary in the North - looms the spirit of Fridtjof Nansen (1861-1930), the mentor of them all. He was the father of modern polar exploration, the last act of territorial discovery before the leap into space began.
Nansen was a prime illustration of Carlyle's dictum that 'the history of the world is but the biography of great men'. He was not merely a pioneer in the wildly diverse fields of oceanography and skiing, but one of the founders of neurology. A restless, unquiet Faustian spirit, Nansen was a Renaissance Man born out of his time into the new Norway of Ibsen and Grieg. He was an artist and historian, a diplomat who had dealings with Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin, and played a part in the Versailles Peace Conference, where he helped the Americans in their efforts to contain the Bolsheviks. He also undertook famine relief in Russia. Finally, working for the League of Nations as both High Commissioner for Refugees and High Commissioner for the Repatriation of Prisoners of War, he became the first of the modern media-conscious international civil servants.
Roland Huntford is the author of two best-selling polar biographies, SHACKLETON (1985) and SCOTT AND AMUNDSEN (1979), filmed for TV as the acclaimed series THE LAST PLACE ON EARTH. He was the London OBSERVER's Scandinavian correspondent & speaks fluent Norwegian.