Ice Bear: The Cultural History of an Arctic Icon

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Product Details

University of Washington Press
Publish Date
8.1 X 9.9 X 0.8 inches | 2.3 pounds

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About the Author

Michael Engelhard works as a wilderness guide in Arctic Alaska and holds an MA in cultural anthropology from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. His books include Where the Rain Children Sleep: A Sacred Geography of the Colorado Plateau, the anthology Wild Moments: Adventures with Animals of the North, and a recent essay collection, American Wild: Explorations from the Grand Canyon to the Arctic Ocean. His writing has also appeared in Sierra, Outside, Audubon, National Wildlife, National Parks, High Country News, and the San Francisco Chronicle.


Engelhard's writing has the sort of calm authority that reminds me often of Barry Lopez.

--David Knowles "EarthLines "

The product of Engelhard's exhaustive research is an eclectic, comprehensive, compelling, and very readable cultural iconography elevated to a level of art form by the inclusion of well-chosen and often stunning illustrations on almost every page. Ice Bear is a visual National Geographic with real verbal punch!

--Marilyn Gates "New York Journal of Books "

Engelhard, a Fairbanks resident, is trained as a cultural anthropologist and works as a wilderness guide in Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The combination makes him uniquely qualified to have authored this fascinating and extensively illustrated exploration of humanity's deeply complicated relationship with an animal he is well acquainted with.

--David A. James "Alaska Dispatch News "

Engelhard is a first-rate guide and very capable writer; Ice Bear makes fascinating reading -- although grimly ironic, since the future of the polar bear in the wild has never looked bleaker.

--Steve Donoghue "Open Letters Monthly "

Michael Engelhard's Ice Bear joins the ranks as one of the best works devoted to these elusive animals. . . . 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!

--Chris Nunnally "Where the Bear Walks blog "

It is in the setting of concern about global warming that Michael Engelhard has provided us with a wonderful book that uses a charismatic carnivore to help us explore the place of humans on this planet.

--Casey Bush "Bear Deluxe "

Engelhard has an apt and unusual background for a book such as this. . . . Among the strengths of Ice Bear is its grasp of the rituals by which humans have always aspired to draw the strength of the polar bear into themselves.

--Mark Abley "Times Literary Supplement "

This expensively produced glossy book feels like an encyclopedia on a single subject . . . . Engelhard's writing is very enjoyable, and readers interested in the polar bear will have months of reading material.

--George Erdosh "City Book Review "

The visuals set this book apart from most. Rather than simply offering one author's work, it is more akin to a polar bear museum. Each image tells a powerful story - some of them familiar, others outlandish, but all portraying a real animal of mythical proportions. . . . Limiting yourself to the captions would mean that you fail to embark on Engelhard's literary and thrillingly human adventure. . . . At the end of this whirlwind tour of the cultural history of the polar bear, I now have a newfound fascination for the species but also for the people, who live with, depict and study them. Michael Engelhard writes confidently of the physical and metaphysical realms as well as our projections of human fears, fantasies and ambitions onto this quintessential Other.

--Lauriane Suyin Chalmin-Pui "LSE Review of Books "

Ice Bear isn't just for lovers of polar bears. No, ecologists will enjoy it, too, as will environmentally-minded readers, animal lovers, culture mavens, and watchers of the Arctic. Bonus: lots of pictures!"

--Terri Schlichenmeyer

Lets compelling images and snips of history tell the tale of human projection onto the bear's white furry screen.

--Carrie Saxifrage "National Observer "

Engelhard's thought-provoking iconography explores in depth the multitude of cultural roles played by the polar bear.

-- (01/01/2016)

Essayist and wilderness guide Engelhard examines the intertwined history of polar bears and humans in this fascinating look at how we have interpreted the species. . . . Of particular interest now as polar ice melts.

-- (01/01/2016)

'Iconic' is the marketing cliché of our times, applied as unthinkingly to wildlife as it is to biscuits. But here, Michael Engelhard digs deeper, tracing how the polar bear came to occupy its place in contemporary culture and, in the process, suggesting what the mechanics of iconography say about us.

-- (01/01/2016)

Eminently readable. This work is expertly researched.

-- (01/01/2017)

[A] beautifully illustrated, hugely engaging book. . . . For all its nightmare-haunting power, however, the aspect of the polar bear that really makes it an icon of the age is its vulnerability . . . . Another merit of the book is the author's willingness to track these themes to their origins.

-- (01/01/2017)

Today, polar bears have become corporate mascots, symbols of a changing climate, and sought-after trophies both dead and, as the subjects of photos, alive. But in Ice Bear, Engelhard tries to throw off the sentimentality that marks most modern writing about polar bears in order to focus on their real significance in human culture. It's a book that has as much to say about humans as it does about its subject, and it explores that niche well in an entertaining style.

-- (01/01/2017)

A compelling chronicle of our fraught relationship with the polar bear. . . . The illustrations throughout the book are beautiful and colorful--especially so for a bear that is basically white except for its claws and nose. . . . Engelhard has written an interesting and wide-ranging review of just how humans think about the ice bear.

-- (01/01/2017)

[A] fascinating cultural history of polar bruins in the human imagination. . . richly illustrated with documentary photos and museum work.

-- (01/01/2017)

What has been missing to date has been a thorough review of the cultural associations between humans and polar bears. That gap has now been filled by Michael Engelhard's detailed treatment of the connection between humans and polar bears in Ice Bear. . . . This book should be in the library of all who share this interest and want to know more about this Arctic icon.

-- (01/01/2017)

Beautifully illustrated.

-- (01/01/2017)

A fascinating subject, dealt with and analysed with all the nuance and caution required. Engelhard is a wonderful storyteller; his writing is engaging, and the knowledge he displays is remarkable.

-- (01/01/2017)