For the last decade, Gretel Ehrlich has been obsessed by an island, a terrain, a culture, and the treacherous beauty of a world that is defined by ice. In This Cold Heaven she combines the story of her travels with history and cultural anthropology to reveal a Greenland that few of us could otherwise imagine.

Ehrlich unlocks the secrets of this severe land and those who live there; a hardy people who still travel by dogsled and kayak and prefer the mystical four months a year of endless darkness to the gentler summers without night. She discovers the twenty-three words the Inuit have for ice, befriends a polar bear hunter, and comes to agree with the great Danish-Inuit explorer Knud Rasmussen that “all true wisdom is only to be found far from the dwellings of man, in great solitudes.” This Cold Heaven is at once a thrilling adventure story and a meditation on the clarity of life at the extreme edge of the world. – Barnes and Noble synopsis

Smilla’s Sense of Snow (based on a novel by Peter Hoeg) is another story that has a strong sense of northern atmosphere. The plot actually hangs on the study of ice crystals, and ends in a climactic chase on ice fields in Greenland. The cultural nuances among the Danish, Inuits and Greenlanders are a fascinating part of the story.

Smilla is a prickly character but cares deeply for a little boy in her apartment building in Copenhagen who falls to his death from the roof.  She believes he has been murdered, due to the fact that he is afraid of heights and never would have played on the roof.  Fans of conspiracy will love the complicated and multi-layered plot that reaches back into the distant past of Greenland.

On any hot, humid August day, what better way to cool down than by reading about cold? Real, icy 40-below cold.  Cold: Adventures in the World’s Frozen Places may send shivers down your spine as it easily entertains and educates about all aspects of this little four-letter word.  Author Bill Streever uses a loosely organized style — almost blog-like — to share all sorts of trivia, including stories from doomed Arctic expeditions as well as amusing anecdotes and easily understandable scientific explanations. Whether you’re curious about seals or snowflakes, igloos or icebergs, hibernation or helium, you’ll likely discover some new tibdit of information with which you can regale your friends. 

To give just one example of these rather obscure tidbits, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was written in 1816, in what was known as the “Year Without Summer.”  She and other guests were staying at Lord Byron’s Geneva retreat, but the weather was so bad, the guests were forced to stay indoors, so Lord Byron challenged them all to come up with ghost stories.  Her novel, published two years later, actually starts with letters from an Arctic explorer and ends with the creature drifting away on an Arctic ice floe. 

Each chapter in Cold is a different month of the year, each with its own location and corresponding temperature.  July is the opening chapter, with a temperature of 51 degrees, as he describes his five-minute experience in the 35-degree water of Prudhoe Bay, located 300 miles north of the Arctic Circle.  September finds him climbing Scotland’s highest peak, and January finds him back in Anchorage, where he lives and serves as the chair of the North Slope Science Initiative’s Science Technical Advisory Panel.  For people like me, who most likely will never get to the Arctic Circle, this book provides an insight — and yes, even an appreciation of — all things cold.

Hot enough for you? Try cooling off with books and movies set in cold climes and cold countries. This week some of our blogging librarians recommend their favorite reads for cooling off.

Set on the coldest continent – high temperatures in Antarctica rarely get above freezing  – Elizabeth Arthur’s lyrical Antarctic Navigation is a heady mix of history, anthropology, environmental responsibility, science, human relationships and feminism all packed into one weighty tome. It’s also the adventure story of a lifetime.

Long fascinated by the lure of Antarctica, Morgan Lamont decides to bring attention the careless destruction of the environment by recreating the Robert Scott’s failed 1910 expedition to the South Pole. She assembles a talented team of scientists and researchers, outfits them with gear and equipment (including sled dogs) and researches Scott’s route and experiences. Even the best laid plans, however, can’t prepare Morgan for the human interactions and entanglements; when tragedy strikes these loyalties and ties are put to the test under the most difficult conditions imaginable.

In addition to the fascinating details of exactly how much work and planning is required to undertake such a mission, there is a lot of reflection on Scott’s historic trip. Scott is considered a hero, especially in England, despite the fact that he failed to be the first to reach the South Pole and ultimately died within a days walk of home camp. His bravery and his dedication to doing the right thing created an iconic figure, something that Morgan examines and tests in her own expedition.

It’s not all philosophy though – there are nail-biting action sequences and many interesting characters in the team Morgan assembles.  Throughout the book, however,  the real star is Antarctica herself – fascinating, distant, ferocious and beautiful, a a haunting land of dreams and sorrows.

They’re back! The Winter Olympics return with the Opening Ceremonies tonight. Taking place in Vancouver, British Columbia, they’ll serve as a showcase for obscure (to most Americans!) winter sports and the beautiful country of  Canada. Join the blogging librarians over the next two weeks as we discuss all things Olympics, winter sports and Canadian!

I’ll start things off with a look at one of the iconic moments in sports history – the defeat of the mighty Soviet hockey team by the little regarded United States team at the Lake Placid Olympics in 1980 – an event that can still send chills down your spine.

The Cold War was still at its height and relations between the Soviet Union and the United States were tense at best. The Soviet team was stocked with seasoned professionals that had played together for years; the American team was made up entirely of college players, thrown together just a few months earlier. The US had never been considered a hockey powerhouse on the international stage, yet Coach Herb Brooks was able to mold this ragtag group of players into a team that challenged – and beat – the best in the world.

You can relive these events through the movie Miracle, starring Kurt Russell and Patricia Clarkson. From the recruitment of the players to the rigorous training and team building to the tense game situations (this team did not win every game that they played!) you never loose sight of the fact that these are ordinary people thrown into an extraordinary situation, achieving more than they – or anyone – dreamed possible. In the words of Al Michaels, “Do you believe in miracles? YES!”