Greenland, by Vilhjalmur Stefansson. 8 vo., 338 pages with illustrations. New York: Doubleday, Doran Co., 1942. Price $3.50.
Few mountaineers, reading the great accounts of Greenland exploration, have not wondered what sort of mountains there were or what an Icecap could be like that is hundreds of times larger than the more familiar mountain glacier systems of the world Stefans- son’s recent book on the huge island deals largely with the fascinating early history of its colonization and the mystery of the disappearance of its European colonists in the seventeenth century. The sagas of these hardy settlers from Iceland and the northern countries, of Greenland’s discovery and development make good reading and are well told. It will interest most people who think of Greenland as a sterile mass of rock and ice to know that sizeable colonies once flourished there and that there was once a Bishop of Greenland who, however, exercised his spiritual influence from more comfortable surroundings. The story of the rise of these colonies and then the complete disappearance of the people following a prolonged break in European contacts should rouse the curiosity of anyone whether he is interested in the Arctic or not.
Stefansson presents exhaustive data regarding the reasons for the disappearance of their culture and what happened to the colonists themselves. The conventional belief was that when ships ceased to maintain contact with Europe the settlers eventually starved to death through their inability to adapt themselves to an Eskimo diet or were killed off by unfriendly Eskimos who came down from the north. The writer disputes these views while explaining the data on which they were founded. He backs MacMillan’s belief that the settlers did not die off, but intermarried and were absorbed by the Eskimos, leaving no trace of themselves as a people, but only ruins which nature has all but eradicated today. One is inclined to agree with Stefansson as his deductions seem to be reasonable, but controversial views are so fully presented that often the reader is confused as to just what the writer himself believes to be the truth of the matter. However, this is probably due more to his manner of presentation, than to any lack of conviction on his part.
The parts on modern Greenland bearing as they do on its strategic value to the Allies in the war will appeal to those who have wondered early in the war how planes were being delivered to
Britain. His suggestions for the use of the Icecap as an intermediate base for planes flying the northern Atlantic route as well as the possibilities for its use by the Germans might not have seemed so startling or radical had the war taken another course in its early days. Unfortunately much that has taken place in Greenland in recent years is veiled in military secrecy. Only after the war will it be possible to appraise Stefansson’s theories in the light of the actual use to which Greenland has been put by the Allies.
The writer does not go into much detail regarding the geography of the Icecap and its surrounding fringe of mountains and deep fiords, nor of the many explorations of it. However there is enough to suggest to the mountaineer that here is a tremendous mountain area practically untouched. The hundreds of sharp peaks which line both of the coasts of South Greenland are mostly under 6000 ft. but offer really difficult ascents which should keep all generations of climbers busy in post-war years. And increased air travel should make them more accessible, it is hoped even for those with limited funds. Further the recurrent rumors of mountains over 14,000 ft. N. of Mt. Forrel should whet the interest of mountaineers who deplore the decreasing number of first ascents, and should urge them on to further exploration even if only to prove the rumors unfounded.
To all these interests Stefansson’s exhaustive book will add more understanding through its portrayal of the hardy people who chose to make Greenland their home.
W. P. H.