The best books about Svalbard

1 authors have picked their favorite books about Svalbard and why they recommend each book.

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A Woman in the Polar Night

By Christiane Ritter,

Book cover of A Woman in the Polar Night

I’m recommending it for several reasons. First, it’s a splendid read. Second, it presents a view of the Arctic from a woman’s rather than a man’s point of view – not a common thing, at least not in the 1930s, when the book was written.   Third, I felt so strongly about the book’s merits that I got it back into print and wrote an introduction to it, too. 

A Woman in the Polar Night

By Christiane Ritter,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Woman in the Polar Night as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Conjures the rasp of the skin runner, the scent of burning blubber and the rippling iridescence of the Northern Lights..." Sara Wheeler, author of Terra Incognita: Travels in Antarctica

"Ritter manages to articulate all the terrible beauty and elemental power of a polar winter" Gavin Francis, author of Empire Antarctica

In 1934, the painter Christiane Ritter leaves her comfortable life in Austria and travels to the remote Arctic island of Spitsbergen, to spend a year there with her husband. She thinks it will be a relaxing trip, a chance to "read thick books in the remote quiet and, not least,…

Who am I?

I’ve had a passion for northern places ever since I was a kid. I prefer locales that boast plenty of nature and not very many human beings. I’ve been to Greenland 15 times, but only once to Paris and never to Rome (Rome in New York State once). The more remote the locale, the better. Which is why I’ve only once been to Nuuk, Greenland’s capital, but several times to almost never visited villages in East Greenland.


I wrote...

At the End of the World: A True Story of Murder in the Arctic

By Lawrence Millman,

Book cover of At the End of the World: A True Story of Murder in the Arctic

What is my book about?

We live in a time when violence in the name of religion is commonplace. But it’s not just a contemporary phenomenon. In 1941, the remote Belcher Islands in Hudson Bay experienced nine killings by newly converted Inuit on the assumption that the victims were Satan. A putative God and a putative Jesus were the primary killers.

In addressing these murders, I couldn’t write about the past without writing about the present, so the book also addresses our current obsession with all things digital and argues that this obsession is not unlike a destructive religion. As people walk along now, they pay attention only to their iDevices, not the natural world.

Book cover of The Shark and the Albatross: A Wildlife Filmmaker Reveals Why Nature Matters to Us All

In some travel writing, animals may be mentioned only in passing and are poorly observed, not so in this superbly written, sumptuous book. It is rich with icy imagery or steamy tropical atmosphere but there is humour, and how impressive that this successful wildlife cameraman and talented writer is so self-effacing. He seriously underplays the risks he faces, like his instructions if bitten by a seal on Bird Island: ‘Clean out the wound as much as you can with a scrubbing brush… and hope it is nowhere important… if it is really bad we’d have to radio for a ship to come and get you, but that could take weeks.’

Brilliant from beginning to end. I was totally immersed.

The Shark and the Albatross

By John Aitchison,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Shark and the Albatross as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

For twenty years John Aitchison has been traveling the world to film wildlife for a variety of international TV shows, taking him to far-away places on every continent. The Shark and the Albatross is the story of these journeys of discovery, of his encounters with animals and occasional enterprising individuals in remote and sometimes dangerous places. His destinations include the far north and the far south, from Svalbard, Alaska, the remote Atlantic island of South Georgia, and the Antarctic, to the wild places of India, China, and the United States. In all he finds and describes key moments in the…

Who am I?

I put my hand where I couldn’t see it and was repaid for my foolishness by a scorpion sting. I was the doctor on an expedition to Madagascar and my friends thought their doctor was going to die. I was already fascinated with the ways animals interact with humans and this incident brought such reactions into sharp focus. Working as a physician in England, Nepal, and elsewhere, I’ve collected stories about ‘creepy crawlies’, parasites, and chance meetings between people and wildlife. Weird, wonderful creatures and wild places have always been my sources of solace and distraction from the challenging life of a working doctor and watching animals has taught me how to reassure and work with scared paediatric patients.


I wrote...

Book cover of A Glimpse of Eternal Snows: A Journey of Love and Loss in the Himalayas

What is my book about?

The book that has my heart and soul in it is A Glimpse of Eternal Snows. It describes a couple of years when we – as a family – moved to an island in Nepal with no road access and no electricity in the middle of the largest tributary of the River Ganges where visitors might include hornbills, rhino, elephant, or even a tiger.

While my husband led a team of engineers intend on preventing floods during the monsoon, I tried to set up a programme of health promotion aiming to reduce deaths due to rabies while as well caring for our two young children. Our second son was born with life-limiting health problems; we’d fled from high-tech medical care in the UK so that he wouldn’t be put through unnecessary and painful operations and medical treatments. Our Nepali friends and neighbours taught us to live for the present and accept what life had flung at us, and our troubled child thrived and was a joyful presence in our remote little village.

Northern Lights

By Philip Pullman,

Book cover of Northern Lights: His Dark Materials 1

Set in a world parallel with ours, I loved the Oxford of this book and the similarities with the world I know. I also loved the differences. My favourite thing about this series is the daemons, they are the same as our soul, but they take the form of an animal that is visual to all who interact with their human. This whole look at souls and what makes a person human is fascinating and, combining this with a rebellious female protagonist and an amazing adventure, makes this book just brilliant. The author does that wonderful trick of being readable by all ages, as a booklover, and as a parent, I really appreciate this skill.

Northern Lights

By Philip Pullman,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Northern Lights as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is the first in a trilogy in which a new universe has been created. A world where daemons swoop and scuttle along the streets of Oxford and London, where the mysterious Dust swirls invisibly through the air, and where one child knows secrets the adults would kill for.

Who am I?

I love fantasy books and I love the wonderful array of British authors out there, so I wanted to showcase some of them in my small selection of books. Some are well known, some less so but all have their own unique and fascinating way of creating fantasy worlds. There are so many good books to choose from but these five are real must-reads as far as I’m concerned.


I wrote...

The Hunter's Companion

By Lori Powell,

Book cover of The Hunter's Companion

What is my book about?

Witches and hunters. Blood and magic. Heartache and lust. Will history repeat itself?

Life in the English fens is going to change for both Lora Smith and Regan White. Four centuries apart their lives take on unnerving parallels. With witches and magic at play, will either girl manage to survive?

Dark Matter

By Michelle Paver,

Book cover of Dark Matter

I'm a great fan of ghost stories, especially the disturbing, subtly creepy sort, ones which rely on the gradual building-up of tension rather than gore. Dark Matter is one of the best I've ever read. Hero Jack, who is already on the back foot because he is poor and everyone else is privileged, is part of an expedition to the Arctic Circle. Undeterred by the apparent unease of the captain who drops them off, the team arrive in Gruhuken, on the coast of Svalbard – the scene of an appalling past tragedy. The crew members succumb to accidents and illness, and finally Jack is left all alone as the Arctic night begins – a darkness that will literally last for months. I think this is one of those stories that genuinely couldn't be set anywhere else. The Arctic location with its endless dark is frightening all by itself, even before…

Dark Matter

By Michelle Paver,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Dark Matter as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'What is it? What does it want? Why is it angry with me?'

January 1937.

Clouds of war are gathering over a fogbound London. Twenty-eight year old Jack is poor, lonely and desperate to change his life. So when he's offered the chance to be the wireless operator on an Arctic expedition, he jumps at it.
Spirits are high as the ship leaves Norway: five men and eight huskies, crossing the Barents Sea by the light of the midnight sun. At last they reach the remote, uninhabited bay where they will camp for the next year. Gruhuken.
But the Arctic…


Who am I?

I write Gothic novels and short ghost stories, nearly always with a very vivid setting. One reviewer observed of my debut novel that the German town where it was set, Bad Münstereifel, almost felt like one of the characters in the book. For the last ten years I have lived in Scotland and much of my recent work is set here. I love to explore the derelict mansions that are dotted about the countryside, walk along the old railway line, or swim in the river. I'm fascinated by the way that traces of Scotland's history are visible in the landscape, and I write this into my books. 


I wrote...

Too Near the Dead

By Helen Grant,

Book cover of Too Near the Dead

What is my book about?

For Fen Munro and her fiancé James, it is a dream come true: an escape from London to a beautiful house in the stunning Perthshire countryside. Barr Dubh house is modern, a building with no past at all. But someone walks the grounds, always dressed in lavender. Under a lichenous stone in an abandoned graveyard, a hideous secret lies buried. And at night, Fen is tormented by horrifying dreams. Someone wants Fen’s happiness, and nothing is going to stop them – not even death...

Dark Matter

By Michelle Paver,

Book cover of Dark Matter

In 1937, 28-year-old Jack volunteers for a remote expedition to Gruhuken, the former whaling station on the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard. He, his four companions, and eight huskies journey north through the brief Arctic summer, their spirits high. At first. As winter approaches, Jack’s companions are forced to leave, until he is utterly alone in a land of never-ending darkness. Bad enough, you might think, but as Jack learns, another presence shares his claustrophobic world of night-time, and the sea is icing over. Soon, it will be impossible to leave. Part horror, part ghost story, this is one of the creepiest tales I’ve ever read.  

Dark Matter

By Michelle Paver,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Dark Matter as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A terrifying 1930s ghost story set in the haunting wilderness of the far north.

January 1937. Clouds of war are gathering over a fogbound London. Twenty-eight year old Jack is poor, lonely and desperate to change his life. So when he's offered the chance to join an Arctic expedition, he jumps at it. Spirits are high as the ship leaves Norway: five men and eight huskies, crossing the Barents Sea by the light of the midnight sun. At last they reach the remote, uninhabited bay where they will camp for the next year. Gruhuken.

But the Arctic summer is brief.…


Who am I?

I love dark, creepy stories set on remote islands; I love writing them and I love reading them. There is something about an island that lends itself so well to the thriller. A closed community with its own set of rules, a far-flung location, probably at the vagaries of oceanic weather, poor communications, local people whose loyalties can’t always be trusted, few places to hide. When the sun goes down on an island there is often, quite literally, no way of escape. I’ve set some of my best books on islands (Sacrifice, Little Black Lies, The Split) and love all of the ones on this list. I hope you do too. 


I wrote...

The Split: A Novel

By Sharon J. Bolton,

Book cover of The Split: A Novel

What is my book about?

She’s got nowhere left to hide. 

A year ago, in desperation, glaciologist Felicity Lloyd signed up for a lengthy research trip to the remote island of South Georgia in the Antarctic ocean. It was her only way to escape. And now he’s coming for her. Freddie Lloyd has served time for murder. Out at last, he’s on her trail. And this time, he won’t stop until he finds her. Because no matter how far you run, some secrets will always catch up with you.

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