"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. It begins with a visit to the collection that, in the seventeenth century, made the Danish doctor Ole Worm famous. Particular treasures in this “cabinet of wonders” supposedly included a stuffed great auk, a kayak with a miniature polar bear, a stool made of whale bones, and mineral samples from Norwegian and Swedish mines... [Brunner] describes ideas about the “North” since antiquity, examining myths, travel accounts, and fatally influential thinkers such as Johann Gottfried Herder, who believed that Old Norse mythology represented the ur-history of the Germans, or Wagner’s son-in-law Houston Stewart Chamberlain, whose work was appreciated by both the Kaiser and Hitler. 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
"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
"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."
"Bernd Brunner points us toward true north: he describes the first expeditions to the pale blond barbarians and the search for a Northwest passage to Asia. He cites the reports of early travelers, explains the Northern lights, and relates the fascination of a sun that, in summer, shines at night ... 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
"Brunner not only collects exciting accounts from the first arduous journeys and cultural encounters in lands such as Norway, Iceland, and Greenland, but also casts his attention to tragic polar expeditions, the dark depths of “racial science,” and dramatic natural phenomena. The book showcases the diverse facets of the “North” as the object of our projections: a myth and locus of longing, a frozen no-man’s land or the cradle of civilization. An entertaining, fascinating, and educational cultural history."
G/Geschichte history magazine
"A travel book, a browsing book, a book that lures us to make our own journey of literary and scientific discovery."
BR Bavarian Broadcasting Network
Book of the month
NDR North German Broadcasting Radio and Television
"This is a brilliant, wide-ranging book which unpacks a multi-faceted and enthralling subject in ways that will resonate with a contemporary readership."
320 pages, several photos and vintage illustrations.
Germany: Galiani Berlin bei Kiepenheuer & Witsch, 2019