304 pages, 8 plates with b/w photos
Unlike some small towns that gradually peter out into the wilderness, this one just ends. On the west edge of town sits the Iceberg Tavern; behind it there's a steel-mesh garbage cage, rusted by the salt air and battered by encounters with something even more inhospitable and frightening than the Arctic elements. Beyond that... there's nothing. Standing on the roof of the bar you can throw a rock that would land in Hudson Bay. Nearby, a signpost is planted in the ground, with a picture of a polar bear and an admonition not to go any further. Take one step backwards and you can be inside enjoying caribou steaks and Canadian whiskey. One step forward and you're in bear country – over a million square kilometers of frozen sea ice, dotted with blood stains where the largest land predators on earth have dragged their prey from the water. Welcome to Churchill, Manitoba, "Polar Bear Capital of the World." Human population: 943.
In Never Look a Polar Bear in the Eye, Zac Unger takes us to an utterly unique and remote place like no other – a realm once reserved exclusively for one of the most majestic predators on earth, and where now the line between man's territory and mother nature's has become perilously blurred. It is one man's journey to develop a deeper understanding of an animal that has become a lightning rod for environmental debate, as well as the uneasy relationship between polar bears and the people whose presence is both at odds with and dependent on the bears' survival.
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Zac Unger is a writer as well as a firefighter and paramedic with the Oakland Fire Department. He is the author of Working Fire: The Making of a Fireman and has written for Slate, The Economist, Men's Journal, and other publications.