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Fridtjof Nansen Biography: New!

Who2 has a new biography of Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen. Read about his life, his work and his relationships with Roald Amundsen — and with Robert Scott Falcon’s wife!

Fridtjof Nansen didn’t become as world famous as some of the polar explorers who came after him. Captain Robert Peary found the North Pole. Roald Amundsen found the South Pole. Ernest Shackleton tried to cross Antarctica and failed, but he boldly rescued his crew and became a hero. Robert Falcon Scott‘s failure in Antarctica turned him into a tragic hero and a symbol of British stiff-upper-lipidness.

But Fridtjof Nansen was a stud, the pride and joy of Norway. An expert skier, Nansen crossed Greenland on skis in 1888. And he did it with a daring trek from east to west, a one-way trip with no chance of going back. 

He set out for the North Pole in his ship Fram (“Forward”) in the summer of 1893. Nansen had a crazy plan — to let his ship get frozen in the ice over winter, then wait for the thaw and let the currents take him closer to the pole. American explorer Adolphus Greely was one of many experts who condemned the idea.

By March of 1895, Nansen had reached further north than anyone, but not close enough to the pole for his liking. He and a companion left the ship on sleds and on 7 April 1895 reached 86º 14′ N — another record — before turning back.

In what was something of a miracle, Nansen was rescued from the ice by British explorer Frederick Jackson in June of 1896, three years after the Fram had set sail from Norway. Upon his return home, Nansen wrote a book about his journey, Farthest North, and became an international celebrity.

He also became a point of Norwegian pride, and used his position to further that country’s move toward independence from Sweden in 1905. Nansen became their first ambassador in London.

He also became the go-to guy for advice on polar exploration. He was a great help to Roald Amundsen, encouraging him and helping him gain financing for his expeditions.

He was maybe not so great a help to Robert Falcon Scott, the British explorer who was narrowly beat by Amundsen in the race to the South Pole. In fact, according to Amundsen biographer Roland Huntford, while Scott was on the ice in Antarctica, Fridtjof Nansen was having an affair with Scott’s wife, Kathleen.

That notion has been pooh-poohed by other historians; most scholars cough into their sleeves on the subject and mutter that Kathleen and Fridtjof were “just friends.” Who knows for sure.

Nansen then had a solid career as an oceanographer, until the outbreak of World War I. Norway was a neutral country, but the war interrupted their trade and Nansen went to Washington, D.C. to hammer out an agreement that would end Norway’s food shortages.

After the war, he worked to repatriate hundreds of thousands of prisoners of war. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1922. He died of a heart attack in 1930.

To find out more, follow the links in the Who2 biography of Fridtjof Nansen.

An 1897 portrait of Nansen, from the Library of Congress

We also have biographies of polar explorers Captain Robert E. Peary and Roald Amundsen and Ernest Shackleton and Matthew Henson and Robert Falcon Scott.

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