What Lopez understood, or came to discover through experience, was that detail anchors perception in a vast space. So his prose is varifocal. Again and again, he evokes the reach and clarity of an Arctic panorama, and then zooms in on a close-up ... The effect for the reader of these sudden shifts of perspective is exhilarating, as though Lopez has gripped you by the shoulder and pressed his binoculars to your eyes ... Lopez's scientific training also helped him. Through it, he came to realize the importance of fact as a carrier of wonder. Arctic Dreams is packed with data: about the crystallography of frazil ice, or the thermodynamics of polar-bear hair. However, this information is deployed not to summarize the landscape and its organisms, but to make them more astonishing ... Light is something about which Lopez writes brilliantly ... Perhaps the best way to think of Lopez is as a postmodern devout. His prose—priestly, intense, grace-noted—carries the hushed urgency of the sermon. Irony and ambiguity are not in his repertoire ... Lopez's gracious spiritualism, his drive to reconnect the cultural and the natural, comes to look less like piety and more like an alarm call.
A few other current writers might write as well about animals at a burst, but none, I think, could go on and on with such indefatigable pleasure and authentic religiosity. Animals too, and not just man, Mr. Lopez is saying, are made in the image of God; and he is celebrating the glory of God. There is no evidence that he writes as well about people, however, or even that he aspires to. We are not dealing with a master nature writer on the order of Turgenev or Thoreau, for whom nature encompassed human nature. His account of the exploration of the Arctic by Europeans in the last fourth of Arctic Dreams is tidy and competent but uninspired, for instance, and none of his companions on his many trips, Eskimo or white, is ever delineated—this not only from a misplaced tact, but from what I take to be a simple lack of interest. Still, the gift of sight (and second sight) focused here upon the ocean, ice, skyscapes, landscapes and wildlife is extraordinary ... Part-rhapsody, part-history, it is a bifurcated book, and displays a magnificently nonchalant assurance at times ... He makes the sensible suggestion that anthropomorphism be one of our tools of inquiry into how animals behave ... I wish anger had pricked Mr. Lopez more often ... In the vast stretches of the Arctic, pockets of development have sprung up, angering conservationists. But the author keeps out of the debate
The themes of this book are as vast as the landscape it encompasses ... Lopez authoritatively conveys an enormous breadth and variety of knowledge ... His portraits of animals muskox, polar bear, narwhale, and others reflect a sensitive melding of facts and mystery. The work is suffused with philosophical and lyrical strains ... Highly recommended for most collections.