Across Arctic America

Knud Rasmussen

A well-stocked larder sets one’s mind at rest, and one feels more at liberty to consider higher things.
— Rasmussen

Knud Rasmussen was the first European to cross the Northwest Passage via dogsled and is largely considered the ‘Father of Eskimology’.

This book is an account of his 20,000 mile trek from Greenland into Siberia, where he aimed to explore & understand the intellectual & spiritual life of the sequestered Eskimo cultures scattered throughout the area.

Knud is also a splendid writer, so the book reads as far more than just a collection of anthropological fragments - though packed with those fascinating tidbits it is.

He gets into progressively untouched land and uncontaminated cultures as the book progresses, each eskimo tribe encountered more self-contained and isolated than the last.

With Knud’s focus on the intellectual and spiritual, there are some fascinating accounts of religious rituals and spiritual practices, sometimes strikingly foreign from our own, sometimes no different.

One elder tells Knud:

“All true wisdom is only to be learned far from the dwellings of men, out in the great solitudes; and is only to be attained through suffering. Privation and suffering are the only things that can open the mind of man to those things which are hidden from others.”

So you can imagine, some of their practices are pretty brutal - fasting, mutilation, etc. And they’re not all that concerned with death either, often believing pretty steadfastly in the continuation of lifecycles.

In all, it’s a great way to immerse in worldviews wholly separate from our own, and a vivid, stunning trip to accompany and experience through Knud’s description.