Books: On Thin Ice: The Changing World of the Polar Bear

Richard Ellis traces the natural and cultural history of polar bears.


Polar bears are the cuddly mascots of our rapidly warming world. But as Richard Ellis writes in this exhaustive work of natural and cultural history, we haven’t always been so eager to save them. As early as the 1600s, Arctic explorers’ first instinct was to shoot the “greate leane white beare,” mostly for sport, but sometimes for food (though sailors who ate its vitamin A-rich liver found that their “skinnes peeled off”). After a winter trapped in the ice, a 19th century Norwegian explorer reported that “Roasted cub-stake and tasty bear’s tongue made a welcome addition to our menu.”

It was when P.T. Barnum and others conscripted bears into circus duty in the 1800s that the public began to see them as entertainment. Fast-forward to 2007, when “Cute Knut,” a cub born at the Berlin Zoo, shared the cover of Vanity Fair‘s “green issue” with Leonardo DiCaprio and kicked off a war between German zoos vying to acquire the most adorable white furballs.

Even as we fetishize polar bears, we’re still killing them off, now with carbon emissions and habitat encroachment. The bears’ hunting grounds are melting and shrinking, killing some and driving others to dumpster diving. Great white bears in the backyard, writes Ellis, might be the kind of wake-up call we need to start taking their survival seriously.

OUR NEW CORRUPTION PROJECT

The more we thought about how MoJo's journalism can have the most impact heading into the 2020 election, the more we realized that so many of today's stories come down to corruption: democracy and the rule of law being undermined by the wealthy and powerful for their own gain.

So we're launching a new Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption. We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We'll publish what we find as a major series in the summer of 2020, including a special issue of our magazine, a dedicated online portal, and video and podcast series so it doesn't get lost in the daily deluge of breaking news.

It's unlike anything we've done before and we've got seed funding to get started, but we're asking readers to help crowdfund this new beat with an additional $500,000 so we can go even bigger. You can read why we're taking this approach and what we want to accomplish in "Corruption Isn't Just Another Scandal. It's the Rot Beneath All of Them," and if you like how it sounds, please help fund it with a tax-deductible donation today.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate