The Ice Balloon by Alec Wilkinson

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline for The Ice Balloon:

This is what happens when you ignore science

Quick synopsis:

A story of S.A. Andree’s attempt to reach the North Pole via a balloon.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like:

S.A. Andree thought he could reach the North Pole via balloon. It went as well as you think it did.

Fun Fact for History Nerds:

Everyone loves a good mystery and the mystery of what happened has nothing to do with the balloon failure. Why the three explorers died where they did is still a mystery even though the bodies were found.

My Take on The Ice Balloon:

This is one of those stories that leaves you asking, “How stupid were these people?”

Turns out, they were both intelligent and incredibly stupid at the same time. Andree was an accomplished balloonist and did an extensive amount of planning both for his success and failure. When he and his compatriots died, there seems to have been plenty of food and survival equipment needed to last. Then they died.

And of course, he thought he could take a BALLOON to the NORTH POLE. Wilkinson even explains early in the book that a CLOUD could alter the volume of the balloon. A cloud. And they thought the North Pole would be fine. Also, the erroneous (which admittedly a lot of smart people thought) idea that the North Pole was on land completely invalidated all Andree’s calculations. This was like the first week’s auditions of a singing competition. Andree needed just one person to let him know this was a terrible idea and he will ruin himself. Oh wait, Greeley did after he almost died in the Arctic. Oh well.

The book is a fast read and is padded by Wilkinson explaining some of the other major Arctic expeditions. They are surely tangents, but well done.


Great book for a newcomer to Arctic exploration. Arctic history buffs may find the recaps of other expeditions tedious, but Andree’s portion of the book is very interesting. Buy it here!

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