In 31 chapters, each as self-contained and pointed as a shard of ice, Brunner presents a different historic, political, natural or cultural facet of his subject. Together, these shards form a glacial memory palace-cum-climbing wall that lets readers scale this myth-wreathed territory. He looks not so much for a through-line as for arresting spots on the berg of the notional north where the reader can plant an ice ax, pause for breath, look out and down, and ponder the mysteries of the northern lights, spread out across the centuries ... Thought-provoking and wide-ranging, Extreme North resembles the 'cabinet of wonders' that he uses as the book’s embarkation point: the 16th-century Museum Wormianum, which held thousands of northern relics assembled by a Copenhagen polymath named Olaf Worms.
Brunner does not skirt around these thorny topics. Likewise he laments the present-day slow destruction of the Arctic through industrial exploitation and climate change. His book is arid and sober-minded, with the occasional witty line ... Translator Jefferson Chase renders Brunner’s prose into English in an appropriately solid and unflashy style. There may not be a great deal of sunniness here, or for that matter warmth, but the book makes up for that with fascinating anecdotes, useful digressions and little nuggets of interest, offering a modern equivalent of Ole Worm’s cabinet of wonders, with something to catch everyone’s eye.