BOOK REVIEW: The Library of Ice: Readings from a Cold Climate

by Nancy Campbell

LIBRARY OF ICE COVERI opted to slip Nancy Campbell’s memoir cum scientific and social history of ice into my backpack when taking a cruise from Liverpool to the Norwegian Fjords. Absurdly, my journey commenced in mid-July when there was more chance of sighting ice in the chef’s lemon sorbet than through the porthole in my cabin (although, there were smudges of snow visible on the distant mountain tops), however, I felt compelled to read something vaguely Nordic while touring the region.

As it happened, I was immensely pleased with my choice. The Library of Ice: Readings from a Cold Climate follows the author over a seven-year-period as she travels from the world’s northernmost open-air museum at Upernavik in Greenland to Oxford’s Bodleian Library, scooting off at various points to visit a variety of chilly places such as Iceland and Antarctica. Thankfully the freakish heatwave affecting parts of Scandinavia at the time of my trip did not in the least spoil my pleasure in this insightful book. In fact, it absorbed me completely during the long days at sea.

Campbell scrutinizes her subject from the perspective of a writer. In her quest to record the effects of climate change on harsh but stunning environments she is drawn into the lives of the people she meets, developing an intense fascination with their beliefs and traditions. Her enthusiasm is contagious and left me hankering to visit some of the locations she so vividly describes.

The Library of Ice is an enchanting though objective account of the author’s icy wanderings, from remote Arctic settlements to dusty archives containing histories of doomed polar expeditions. It’s intriguing, poetic in parts, and the perfect book to accompany one on a voyage to the land of Trolls, Vikings and the midnight sun.

Many thanks to Simon and Schuster UK Fiction for providing an advance review copy of this title.

Categories: Science & Nature

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41 replies

  1. Worth reading for the title alone in this hot weather! Sounds very interesting anyway.

  2. Oh, I definitely need to read this one, thank you for reviewing it! (Although Upernavik does not have the world’s northernmost museum, Longyearbyen on Svalbard have at least two further north and there may be other).

  3. I really enjoyed reading this review. Hope you enjoyed your trip!

  4. Awesome review! I like the sound of this book a lot.

  5. I love that you read this on your trip, Paula! Fantastic review! Are you going to post any pics from your holiday?

  6. Sounds fascinating! And reading about cold things at the moment might help to keep me sane!

  7. Just the ticket to cool a reader down a little! Great post, Paula. I loved Jenny Diski’s Skating to Antarctica and this sounds as if it might be an Arctic counterpoint.

  8. What a great review! This seems like the perfect choice for your trip, sounds fascinating.

  9. I have this from NetGalley – have read a lot of similar things (can’t get enough of Arctic/Antarctic memoirs) so it will be interesting to see how it compares!

  10. This book sounds definitely up my alley, anything related to the environment or foreign locations just pull me in. Do you think this book is more focused on the science side of the knowledge, or did the author focus more on history or her thoughts herself?

    • Thanks, Ayunda. No, this book isn’t overly scientific. It’s more a writer sharing her thoughts, experiences and discoveries in very readable prose. Nancy Campbell isn’t particularly introspective but she relates her adventures (highs and lows etc.), in addition to some fascinating historical research. She also describes really well the people she meets and the conversations she has with them. Hope this helps a little.

  11. Oh I have to get hold of this, totally my thing.

  12. This kind of reminds me of an acquaintance who does science communications and how she’s now taken on a whole new aspect of her work of helping scientists convert their information into digestible chunks by the public:


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