North

Extreme North - A Cultural History

An entertaining and informative voyage through cultural fantasies of the North, from sea monsters and a mountain-sized magnet to racist mythmaking. People have perennially projected their fantasies onto the North as a frozen no-man’s-land full of marauding Vikings or as the unspoiled landscape of a purer, more elemental form of life. Bernd Brunner recovers the encounters of adventurers with its dramatic vistas, fierce weather, exotic treasures, and indigenous peoples—and with the literary sagas that seemed to offer an alternate (“whiter” and “superior”) cultural origin story to those of decadent Greece/Rome and the moralistic “Semitic” Bible. The Left has idealized Scandinavian social democracy. The Right borrows from a long history of crackpot theories of Northern origins. Nordic phenotypes characterized eugenics, which in turn influenced America’s limits on immigration. The North, Brunner argues, was as much invented as discovered. A valuable contribution to intellectual history, full of vivid documentation, Extreme North is an enlightening journey through a place that is real, but also, in fascinating and very disturbing ways, imaginary.

Advance praise:

"A fascinating and historically disturbing journey through an intriguing land of mystery and legend."
Kirkus Reviews

"Bernd Brunner’s Extreme North is a gripping and highly original history of how encounters with northerly landscapes and peoples have shaped Europe’s perception of itself. Beautifully written and deeply evocative, this is history that is in equal parts whimsical and disturbing. Brunner shows how scientific curiosity and the pursuit of adventure collided with malign theories of racial superiority, attributed to a myth of northern descent. At a moment when our collective future is increasingly bound to the fate of the polar regions, Extreme North could not be more timely."
Sunil Amrith, Professor of History, Yale University

"Extreme North is an icily bewitching panorama of the dreams and fears, the fascination and the danger of the snowy limits of civilisation. In these fantasies and travel accounts, ancient legends, and wild projections, we become spectators of the age-old dance between life and landscape of nordic climes on the one hand, and human longing on the other."
Philipp Blom, author of "Nature's Mutiny"

"An intrepid researcher and writer, Bernd Brunner takes readers on a journey through time and space and into the minds of countless many who had something profound to say about the northernmost reaches of the globe. The journey is sometimes shocking, always fascinating, and surely worth taking."
Jack E. Davis, Professor of History, University of Florida, author of "The Gulf – The Making of an American Sea" (Pulitzer Price for History)

"In Extreme North, Bernd Brunner gives us a spry, fascinating tour through centuries of lore about the globe's colder latitudes. From Greek myths of Hyperborea to Enlightenment scientists to the Nazi adoration of Norse symbols, he brings alive the power of "the north" to inspire European ideas about everything from race and social organization to geography and history. Bristling with captivating details and characters, Brunner pushes us to wonder what the north is, and why it has so long fascinated people living to the south."
Bathsheba Demuth, Assistant Professor of History and Environment and Society, Brown University, author of "Floating Coast: An Environmental History of the Bering Strait"

"Extreme North takes the reader on a fascinating journey through the ‘North’ as it has been seen from the outside through time – alien or coarse to some, noble and civilized to others, but always different. Brunner draws on an eclectic mixture of sources, from early maps and travel narratives to heavy metal, and his erudite, engaging book is indispensable for understanding the cultural status of the North today."
Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir, author of "Valkyrie - The Women of the Viking World"

"From the Ultima Thule of antiquity to the practices of the north's Indigenous peoples, to stoic, Kierkegaardian faith, and on to the racial fantasies about the north's white peoples. Brunner's imaginative yet critical exploration of the circumpolar region weaves together the many, often contradictory, images and ideas that have come together in writings and images of the top of the globe. Any reader interested in Indigenous peoples of the North, Russia, Scandinavia, the United Kingdom, Iceland, Canada, Alaska, and their histories will find a lively and brilliant companion in Bernd Brunner's Extreme North. It should be read by the curious, student, and scholar alike."
Andrew Nestingen, Professor of Scandinavian Studies, University of Washington

"I have always been interested in the North, let alone due to my name. Even if the true encounter with the Myth of the North can only be experienced physically, physiologically, on the ground, means reading this meticulously researched book by Bernd Brunner is the best preparation."
Norman Ohler, New York Times best-selling author of "Blitzed - Drugs in the Third Reich"

Reviews of the German edition:

"The cultural history of the north is rife with legends and – let’s be frank – lies: fantastical maps, forged epics and runes, invented accounts of travels, and racist pseudo-myths. Although for centuries the north did little to burnish its own image – when the Goths, Vikings, and later the Swedes came by, it wasn’t to be neighborly – signs of its idealization began to pop up as early as the 18th century... What was it about this point of the compass that invited people to project their fantasies onto it? In his book Inventing the North, author Bernd Brunner has woven the seaman’s yarn of the north into an exciting cultural history."
Aspekte, Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen

"Bernd Brunner ... has now written a book about how we see the North – or, in his words, our “invention” of the North – and it is an very engaging one. ... Brunner traces a path that grows increasingly dark as it leads to the “murky depths of racial science,” the “Nordic movement,” and the ideological outpourings of someone like Alfred Rosenberg. But he doesn’t lose sight of more upbeat topics, either, like the unbelievably detailed map of the Northern world printed in Venice by the Swedish bishop Olaus Magnus in 1539, the Victorians‘ enthusiasm for the Vikings, journeys of discovery to the Arctic, and the social policy reforms achieved by Scandinavian countries in the 1930s."
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

"An extremely interesting read. In particular, the widespread discourse about the North during the transition to modernity leads to interesting conclusions about shifts within European society. In the second half of the 18th century, the Northern regions—long feared as dark, dangerous places where the devil was at home—suddenly attracted tremendous interest. The work of philologists helped to trigger this enthusiasm: in 1755 a scholar in Geneva published excerpts of the Old Norse Edda. But urbanization, industrialization, and a pervasive sense of decadence also all contributed to improving the image of the supposedly untouched, primeval North for people in England, France, and Germany."
Neue Zürcher Zeitung

"A book that succeeds and is well worth reading, with many new perspectives on the past. It teaches us that romanticizing this part of the world is a mistake, but so is underestimating it."
Spektrum der Wissenschaft (German edition of Scientific American)

"Bernd Brunner, a specialist in seemingly arcane topics, maintains a thoughtful perspective as he leads the reader through the cultural history of the North, including North Germanic traditions and the monstrous beliefs that coopted them.  Modern longing for unspoiled nature reveals itself in a sentimental view of the simple life between Geirangerfjord and Bullerbü, of beech forests, granite, and Falun red."
Die Zeit

"A captivating book and another entry in the author's series of very successful studies of cultural history. It's a wonderful page-turner for long winter evenings. Once again, Brunner has drawn on a wide range of sources - from sailors and explorers to merchants and writers - who felt curiosity and longing for the North at some points and mistrust and hearty dislike of it at others. They all shaped the image of the North just as Scandinavian crime novelists, cozy hygge culture, and melting polar glaciers do today."
dpa, German Press Agency

"Based on in-depth research and beautifully written. A wonderful treasure trove. A 300-page, multifaceted journey through the high North."
SWR2 Southwest Broadcasting Network

"This is a brilliant, wide-ranging book which unpacks a multi-faceted and enthralling subject in ways that will resonate with a contemporary readership."
New Books in German

320 pages, several photos and vintage illustrations.

Germany: Galiani Berlin bei Kiepenheuer & Witsch, 2019

USA: W. W. Norton

Spain: Acantilado