I vacillated between 3 and 4 stars and finally went with three for a few different reasons. For starters, the title, while super cute, is a bit misleading. I picked the book up off of the library shelves knowing nothing about it, looked at the title, and flipped through the photos section. Lots of pictures of the author’s adorable small children and wife hanging out in Churchill, Manitoba. Looked cute, heartwarming, a family adventure.
However, the book actually goes in a lot of different directions, and the author’s family is really only the tiniest sliver of the story. It’s true that they went along and lived in an unfurnished apartment on the edge of town, and there are a few adorable anecdotes about his children, particularly the middle son, looking for “polars.” Otherwise, it seems as if his wife & kids picked up from their lives in California and moved up to the middle of nowhere to hang out and eat canned foods in their pajamas and pick their noses while the author traipsed around in search of adventures & truth. Maybe they couldn’t all bear (no pun intended) to be apart that long. Anyway, I’m not really sure why his family went along or what they were doing to entertain themselves while he was doing all the other things he describes, but suffice it to say that most of this book has nothing to do with any “family field trips.”
Essentially, Unger, who is a very engaging writer and also quite humorous, was an environmental studies major in college. He’s about my age, has a family with demographics not entirely unlike my own, and, as a yuppie hippie (which is how I describe my Whole Foods demographic), felt himself drawn to learn more about the plight of the polar bear.
Disclaimer: I am a bad yuppie hippie. I did not know there was all this publicity about polar bears dying off. Yes, I knew about climate change and many varieties of horribleness it threatens to unleash upon the modern world, including the flooding of farmland, massive droughts, loss of species across the board, possible pandemics, to name a few. I just didn’t know about the fact that the polar bear was, apparently, the curren symbol of the world’s possible imminent environmental destruction.
Anyway, Unger drops a whole bunch of his money & time into this project, travels up to the “polar bear capitol of the world” in Churchill, and details his experiences in this book. As I mentioned before, his writing is quite amusing as well as informative, and I laughed out loud more than once. However, his book suffers from a total lack of direction. Essentially, he goes on every tour, talks to scientists, talks to townspeople, explores the history of the town, gives background about the way polar bear populations are calculated, follows minor celebrities and film crews around, with his central question being, seemingly, “What’s this polar bear obsession all about, anyway?”
Lacking focus, the book meanders and even Unger’s prose couldn’t keep me interested in hearing about yet another tangentially related story of how he went on this or that “adventure” searching for the ultimate meaning of polar bears for humanity. He also repeats himself quite a bit. Perhaps a bit of generous editing and repackaging could have pushed this book up to squarely 4 stars or beyond. Recommended, although not without reservations.