On Thin Ice
On Thin Ice
The Changing World of the Polar Bear
Knopf, Hardcover, 9780307270597, 416pp.
Publication Date: November 17, 2009
Polar bears—fierce and majestic—have captivated us for centuries. Feared by explorers, revered by the Inuit, and beloved by zoo goers everywhere, polar bears are a symbol for the harsh beauty and muscular grace of the Arctic. Today, as global warming threatens the ice caps’ integrity, the polar bear has also come to symbolize the peril that faces all life on earth as a result of harmful human practices. Here, the acclaimed science writer Richard Ellis offers an impassioned and moving statement on behalf of polar bears—and all they stand for.
Ellis gives a vivid and brilliantly articulated picture of earth’s largest land predators—including their hunting, mating, and hibernation habits. Polar bears are exceptionally well suited for hunting—especially when it comes to ringed seals, their favorite prey, which they can smell from more than a mile away. But as the ice melts in the Arctic, the ability of polar bears to find food diminishes in spite of their incredible physical capacities. Some bears will vainly take to the water in search of ice on which to hunt, and many of them swim until they drown. In the past twenty years alone, the world population of polar bears has shrunk by half. Today they number just 22,000.
Still, On Thin Ice is an ode, not an elegy: Ellis reminds us that the extinction of the polar bear—and the disappearance of our ice caps—is not inevitable. While the killing of polar bears remains a matter of ritual solemnity among the Inuit, U.S. government officials continue to balk at placing the polar bear on the endangered species list because doing so would place the bears’ territory off-limits for oil drilling. As the polar bears’ habitat disappears beneath them, their survival rests entirely on our willingness to take such critical steps.
Urgent and stirring, On Thin Ice is both a celebration and a rallying cry on behalf of one of earth’s greatest natural treasures.
Richard Ellis is the author of more than a dozen books. He is also a celebrated marine artist whose paintings have been exhibited in museums and galleries around the world. He has written and illustrated articles for numerous magazines, including Audubon, National Geographic, Discover, Smithsonian, and Scientific American. He lives in New York City.
“Timely, passionate and comprehensive. . . . Ellis is . . . a graceful writer who’s written some of the best natural history books of the past decade.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Ellis is [the polar bear’s] ideal champion. . . . By presenting the bears’ plight in such convincing terms, Ellis shows unequivocally that the fate of these magnificent creatures is in our hands.” —Providence Journal
“It takes a hard heart indeed to be unmoved by this history of an endangered species.” —The Times-Picayune (New Orleans)
“Vivid and affectionate.” —Time Out New York
“[Ellis] clearly loves these animals, and so do we by the time he’s done. . . . Excellent.” —National Geographic Adventure
“[Ellis’s] thorough discussion of the polar bear in history and literature and his concise description of its physiology serve as a background to a powerful plea for the survival of one of the most imposing animals.” —St Louis Post-Dispatch
“Masterful. . . . Ellis relieves the more painful passages . . . with fascinating details about polar bear biology and behavior.” —Louisville Courier-Journal
“Through [Ellis’s] eyes, the ice bear becomes more than a sacrificial symbol; it becomes a vital part of the mental and physical landscape we inhabit.” —Los Angeles Times
“In On Thin Ice Richard Ellis . . . paints a natural history of the icon of the north, the polar bear. Well-versed in the complicated history and politics of whaling, he describes the long tradition of Arctic explorers who proved themselves by taking on the white bear.” —The Economist
“A memorable and important book about a magnificent animal that now seems doomed to die before our very eyes.” —The Globe and Mail (Toronto)
“[Ellis’s] newest book captivated me. . . . Ellis covers the wide range of the polar bear, which recognizes no national boundaries while searching for food, mates, and shelter at the top of the world, and outlines the difficulties in protecting an animal whose populations straddle parts of five countries. . . . I found it hard to put down.” —Susan Meadows, Santa Fe New Mexican
“This is a thoughtful and well-researched book about the beast of the decade: the beast of the new millennium. . . . Ellis does his best to allow the bears to speak for themselves.” —The Times (London)
“It’s disturbing to learn just how threatened the polar bear is by the effects of global warming and the melting of ice packs. Ellis offers a detailed look at the lifestyle of Earth’s largest predator.” —Sacramento Bee
“If Ellis does not have all the answers, he certainly has a clear vision of all the problems.” —The Anniston Star
“An extensive portrayal of impressions, interactions and impacts of humans upon the polar bear. . . . Fascinating.” —The Winnipeg Free Press
Polar bears are some of the most high-profile victims of global warming. Theyâ��re irresistibly cute, and author Richard Ellis says theyâ��ll disappear from the wild within a hundred years as irreversible warming destroys the polar ice caps. Ellis talks to host Guy Raz about his new book, On Thin Ice: The Changing World of the Polar Bear. More at NPR.org
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