Paper $34.00 ISBN: 9781861892300 Published April 2005 For sale in North and South America only
E-book $15.50 to $34.00 ISBN: 9781861895639 Published April 2005

The Idea of North

Peter Davidson

The Idea of North
Distribution by the University of Chicago Press only to customers in the USA and Canada. Customers elsewhere should visit the UK website of Reaktion Books.

Peter Davidson

Distributed for Reaktion Books

272 pages | 15 halftones | 6.15 x 9.25 | © 2004
Paper $34.00 ISBN: 9781861892300 Published April 2005 For sale in North and South America only
E-book $15.50 to $34.00 ISBN: 9781861895639 Published April 2005
North is the point we look for on a map to orient ourselves. It is also the direction taken throughout history by the adventurous, the curious, the solitary, and the foolhardy. Based in the North himself, Peter Davidson, in The Idea of North, explores the very concept of "north" through its many manifestations in painting, legend, and literature.

Tracing a northbound route from rural England—whose mild climate keeps it from being truly northern—to the wind-shorn highlands of Scotland, then through Scandinavia and into the desolate, icebound Arctic Circle, Davidson takes the reader on a journey from the heart of society to its most far-flung outposts. But we never fully leave civilization behind; rather, it is our companion on his alluring ramble through the north in art and story. Davidson presents a north that is haunted by Moomintrolls and the ghosts of long-lost Arctic explorers but at the same time, somehow, home to the fragile beauty of a Baltic midsummer evening. He sets the Icelandic Sagas, Nabokov's snowy fictional kingdom of Zembla, and Hans Christian Andersen's cryptic, forbidding Snow Queen alongside the works of such artists as Eric Ravilious, Ian Hamilton Finlay, and Andy Goldsworthy, demonstrating how each illuminates a different facet of humanity's relationship to the earth's most dangerous and austere terrain.

Through the lens of Davidson's easy erudition and astonishing range of reference, we come to see that the north is more a goal than a place, receding always before us, just over the horizon, past the last town, off the edge of the map. True north may be unreachable, but The Idea of North brings intrepid readers closer than ever before.
Introduction: True North
I. Histories
—Ideas of North from Antiquity to the Twentieth Century
—Treasures and Marvels of the North
II. Imaginations of North
—Ice and Glass
—The North in the 1930s: Auden and Ravilious
—Imagined Northern Territories
—Northern Summer
—Northern Exile
III. Topographies
—Japan and China
Epilogue: Keeping the Twilight
Photographic Acknowledgements
Review Quotes
Richard Price | Scotland on Sunday
"What is the North? Although it’s almost always that bit further from wherever you happen to be, Peter Davidson’s new study manages to pin down its elusive cultural quality for long enough to offer new insights and lyrical evocations."
Aberdeen Evening Express
"A truly stunning assessment of the concept of 'north' in literature, legend, history and the psyche of "Northern" people. Why do some places feel 'northern'? Peter Davidson writes with an incredible sense of place in the North-east of Scotland."
Tom Shippey | Times Literary Supplement
"An interesting meditation."
Jane Perry | The Observer
"The idea of north clearly inspires strong passion in Davidson, who never lets his learning cloud his enthusiasm for this wide and protean subject and his writing shares the awe of the poets who preceded him on this journey."
Melanie Reid | The Glasgow Herald
"this delightful, original work could only spring from someone who nurtures within a a strong sense of what he writes . . . an esoteric but important gem; original treasure from the north . . . The spiritual equivalent of a large slice of chocolate cake: unexpected, satiating, fulfilling. Suddenly, those cold, high places don't seem so lonely after all."
Tom Adair | The Scotsman
"Davidson's style . . . achieves a lyrical elegance of phrase. . . . he achieves a marvel of descriptiveness that is moving as well as expressive of something irreducibly 'north', yet universal."
Christina Hardyment | The Independent
"Besides being a discriminating critic, Davidson has an arrestingly personal voice . . . The Idea of North is one of those books that have you making a long list of references you want to follow."

"The charm of the book is its exhaustiveness, zooming into a variety of touchstones to show how they've influenced global culture in sly, often surprising ways. . . . The Idea of North is an exhausting book, but in the best sort of way. Davidson tackles so many different ideas about north-ness, both sympathetic and contradictory, that the writing accrues meaning and value as it goes along. . . . Davidson's north is an enormous challenging land: humbling, shifting, austere, empty, fragile, desolate, desolating, marginal, authentic--a place, as Davidson perfectly puts it, forever suffused with 'absolute, difficult beauty.'"

The Guardian

"Davidson is as interesting writing about snow sculptures and 17th-century paintings of the Arctic as he is about Auden, and his reading of the imaginary land of Zembla in Nabokov's Pale Fire as an enternal, symbolic north is highly evocative...a lovely book"

London Review of Books

"The nearer he gets to the North of England and Scotland the more deeply felt his writing becomes. . . . Marvellously sensitive."

Verlyn Klinkenborg | Discover
"This is a book about poetry, myth, and art, and the myriad ways in which artists, poets, and explorers have filtered the north's stark natural splendor through their imaginations. . . . Davidson has compiled an extraordinary catalog of the shapes the north has taken in the minds of humans. . . . A work of genuine erudition, guiding readers northward out of their home ground and into unknown territory."
Max Jones | Times Higher Education Supplement
"Provocative. . . . Davidson's evocative prose and sensitive analyses of an impressive range of sources heighten the reader's appreciation of the rich complexity of humanity's imagined Norths."
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