Prime Arctic predator and nomad of the sea ice and tundra, the polar bear endures as a source of wonder, terror, and fascination. Humans have seen it as spirit guide and fanged enemy, as trade good and moral metaphor, as food source and symbol of ecological crisis. Eight thousand years of artifacts attest to its charisma, and to the fraught relationships between our two species. In the White Bear, we acknowledge the magic of wildness: it is both genuinely itself and a screen for our imagination.
Ice Bear: The Cultural History of an Arctic Icon traces and illuminates this intertwined history. From Inuit shamans to Jean Harlow lounging on a bearskin rug, from the cubs trained to pull sleds toward the North Pole to cuddly superstar Knut, it all comes to life in these pages. With meticulous research and more than 160 illustrations, the author brings into focus this powerful and elusive animal. Doing so, he delves into the stories we tell about Nature – and about ourselves – hoping for a future in which such tales still matter.
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.
"Everybody loves polar bears but few likely know, or have ever pondered, why. In Ice Bear, Michael Engelhard weaves together the disparate pieces of our eclectic social and cultural fascination with polar bears. His tapestry of images further reveals our complex attachment to this Arctic icon."
– Andrew Derocher, author of Polar Bears: A Complete Guide to Their Biology and Behavior
"Like the whale, the polar bear is a seismographic animal, its fate a sensory prediction of our own. Michael Engelhard's gorgeous synoptic survey of this icy cultural symbol speaks to this terrible, wonderful beauty, a paradoxical emblem of a world out of kilter. Beautifully written and tellingly illustrated, Engelhard's Ice Bear sits on top of our world, regnant, threatened, intrinsically and endlessly evocative of the ever vexed meeting of human and natural history."
– Philip Hoare, author of The Sea Inside
"A great book about the greatest and most formidable of polar predators."
– Richard Ellis, author of On Thin Ice: The Changing World of the Polar Bear
"Engelhard's writing has the sort of calm authority that reminds me often of Barry Lopez."
– David Knowles, EarthLines
"Engelhard's thought-provoking iconography explores in depth the multitude of cultural roles played by the polar bear."
– David Fox, Anchorage Press
"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."
– Nancy Bent, Booklist
"'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."
– Mike Unwin, BBC Wildlife Magazine