Reviews

Praise for the Island of the Blue Foxes

"'A rip-roaring tale of adventures, hardship, sacrifice, human hubris and - dare I say – madness –... set in inhospitable landscapes and told with breezy energy. Wonderful."

– ANDREA WULF author of The Invention of Nature: Alexander Humboldt's New World

"One of the most significant and harrowing expeditions in the annals of European and American exploration, the Bering voyages remain largely unknown to modern readers. Bering left his name on a sea and a strait, and his naturalist Steller identified dozens of unknown plants and animals in the New World, but perhaps the most inspiring legacy is the remarkable forbearance and human ingenuity employed by the expedition's survivors in the face of scurvy, starvation, and shipwreck. A gifted chronicler of Northern exploration, Stephen Bown tells this incredible tale with grace, authority, and a deep grasp of its significance."

– PETER STARK, author of Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson's Lost Pacific Empire

"Bown has done an exceptional job in telling the compelling tale of one of the world's greatest and most tragic maritime expeditions ... a largely forgotten story of an incredible Russian seafaring endeavour in the early eighteenth century, as well as the depth of human despair and perseverance in the name of exploration and science."

– JAMES P. DELGADO, author of Across the Top of the World: The Quest for the Northwest Passage

"A gripping account of 'the most extensive scientific expedition in history,' whose impressive results were certainly matched by its duration and miseries. A rapidly paced story of adventure 'to be appreciated as a reminder of the power of nature and of the struggle and triumph over disaster...and of the powerful urge to persevere and return home.'"

– Kirkus Reviews


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Praise for the White Eskimo

  • Winner of the William Mills Prize for Polar Books which "honours the best Arctic or Antarctic nonfiction book published throughout the world in the past two years."
  • White Eskimo was also shortlisted for the Canadian Authors Association Award for History and the Alberta Literary Award for Non-Fiction.

"Is Knud Rasmussen the most remarkable polar explorer that few people have ever heard of? In White Eskimo: Knud Rasmussen's Fearless Journey Into the Heart of the Arctic, Stephen R. Bown makes a good case that he is…White Eskimo—the first English-language biography of Knud Rasmussen—offers much pleasure. Mr. Bown's prose is clear and lively, and while he clearly believes that Rasmussen was an extraordinary man, he doesn't dodge Rasmussen's flaws."

– Wall Street Journal

"As Stephen Bown reveals in this masterful biography, [Rasmussen] was also an Arctic Richard Francis Burton, publishing key anthropological works on Inuit culture in Canada and Greenland."

– Nature

Bown has done an excellent job of bringing Rasmussen to life-another first-rate entry from this accomplished writer.

– Booklist

Readers of Arctic cultures and exploration should clamor for this joyous celebration of Rasmussen's life.

– Library Journa

"In the history of Arctic exploration Knud Rasmussen stands alone, a brilliant anthropologist, an explorer of relentless determination, an entrepreneur of adventure, and a man who moved effortlessly between cultural worlds because he was truly a child of both. This compelling book is a marvelous tribute to an extraordinary explorer and the lands and peoples who made him great."

– Wade Davis, author of Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest

"At last a book about Knud Rasmussen in English...and at last readers on this side of the Atlantic can discover what a Renaissance man Rasmussen was - explorer, ethnographer, author, film-maker, and raconteur! I tip my toque to Stephen Bown for bringing the great Dane to our attention."

– Lawrence Millman, author of Last Places and Hiking to Siberia

"A thorough, insightful biography ... Bown emphasizes the sheer vitality and charisma of Rasmussen, who shared his celebrity spotlight with the Inuit hunters, dog-sled drivers, and others who were key to the success of the expeditions. A vivacious study that will surely revive interest in the writings of this towering explorer and ethnographer. "

– Kirkus Reviews


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Praise for the The Last Viking

  • Globe and Mail Top 100 Book of 2012
  • Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the year, 2012
  • San Francisco Book Review Best Book of 2012
  • Winnipeg Free press Best Book of the Best, 2012

"Mr. Bown has produced a solid, entertaining account of Amundsen's adventures, through which he scrolls with pleasing attention to detail. This is a real 'Boy's Own' narrative, one that conjures the rasp of hickory ski on thin ice, the patter of a hundred dogs, and the whiff of tobacco after a long day on the trail. Mr. Bown is especially good on historical context."

– Wall Street Journal (Sara Wheeler)

"An intensely researched, thoroughly enjoyable life of one history's best explorers...A superb biography of a fiercely driven explorer who traveled across the last inaccessible areas on earth before technical advances made the journey much easier."

– Kirkus Reviews (starred)

"Bown gracefully weaves together these and other journalistic records, along with journals kept by Amundsen and his men, to paint a surprisingly intimate portrait of a complex, at times difficult, yet eminently admirable man."

– Boston Globe

"In chronicling Amundsen's career, Bown shows that it is ultimately an explorer's vision, not his or her business acumen or public relations skills, that makes incredible feats possible. For the armchair explorers among his readers, Bown offers a second, more poignant layer of insight into how the modern age has shaped our attitudes toward the unknown."

– Canadian Geographic Magazine

"[A] fascinating biography...As a depiction of an explorer's life it is intelligent and often thrilling."

– Sunday Times (UK)


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Praise for "1494"

"This is a starry love story, a tale of seething jealousies and subterfuge, a political imbroglio, and religious cruelties. It sounds like Shakespeare and it could have very well been the plot of one of his plays. . . . In the 15th century, the world began to take shape in the ways we understand it today."

– Toronto Star

"For casual readers of history, the 1493 papal decree dividing the planet between Portugal and Spain is one more Ripley's Believe It Or Not exhibit from our strange and wonderful past. . . . 1494 is certainly a good read."

– National Post

"An entertaining and elegantly written voyage into the treacherous seas of religious fanatics, greedy slavers, depraved autocrats, doomed indigenous peoples and desperately brave adventurers in search of fortune."

– The Globe & Mail

"In his familiar, accessible style, Bown drapes 1494's historical figures and events in a mantle of intrigue, crime, war and sex, while backing it all with thorough research and organized historical context."

– Fast Forward Weekly


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Praise for "Merchant Kings"

Publishers Weekly gives Merchant Kings a Starred review – October 25, 2010

"Bown has produced a magnificent description of the six great companies, and their leaders, that dominated the "Heroic Age of Commerce." Bown demonstrates how the corporations served as stalking horses for kings and parliaments while enriching shareholders and the powerful managers themselves. Jan Pieterszoon Coen of the Dutch East India Company was particularly noteworthy for cruel tyranny in what is now Indonesia. The English East India Company's Robert Clive, through genius and perseverance, rose to a position of near-absolute power in India. Aleksander Baranov of the Russian American Company, known as the "Lord of Alaska," was bound by ties of decency and responsibility to the company's men, but also had a deep strain of brutality. Cecil Rhodes of the British South Africa Company and of De Beers, the South African diamond monopoly, was dedicated both to the British Empire and to the success of his various enterprises. Bown presents a fascinating look at the men who exploited resources and native peoples while laying the foundations of empires. "Neither heroes nor angels," Bown says, their global impact was as great as that of any king."

– Publishers Weekly

The Right Honourable Paul Martin Endorses Merchant Kings

After picking up a copy of Stephen Bown's new book Merchant Kings: When Companies Ruled the World, 1600–1900, Former Prime Minister of Canada Paul Martin couldn't put it down. He called Stephen to tell him so, and then officially endorsed the book saying:
"Stephen Bown tells a fascinating story, one that provides a very different perspective on the colonial period than that which is to be gleaned from the usual grocery list of significant events. I started Merchant Kings on the plane one evening and didn't put it down until the Sun rose the next morning. I lost a night's sleep – but it was worth it."

– The Right Honourable Paul Martin, former Prime Minister of Canada

"Stephen Bown has ingeniously whittled this multinational history down to vignettes of six of its more notorious figures . . . These characters are as familiar to us as evil story-book characters, yet as foreign to contemporary business standards as Genghis Khan."

– Globe and Mail

"In Merchant Kings... Bown Chronicles the lives of six men who governed and shaped the world as we know it. He deftly interweaves detailed story and back-story, military battles and backroom deals, with global forces and each man's idiosyncrasies. In a highly accessibly style, he recounts the achievements – and the shame – of these mercantile actors..."

– Vancouver Sun


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Praise for "Madness, Betrayal and the Lash"

"A fascinating adventure story with vivid descriptions of 18th century geopolitics and native and British societies . . .Stephen Bown is emerging as Canada's Simon Winchester."

– The Globe and Mail

"it's obvious that [Bown's] ambition is to elevate Vancouver to the pantheon occupied by his contemporaries James Cook and Horatio Nelson. And he makes a good case, especially given that Vancouver completed a four-year circumnavigation of the globe without losing a man to scurvy, the curse of the mariners during that era. Nonetheless, the explorer is well served by this Alberta-based historian's clear-eyed, respectful charting of his life and times."

– Georgia Straight

"This is no pure high seas adventure. Just as engaging is Bown's account of the scourging Vancouver received back in England at the hands of higher-class shipmates who had endured his onboard discipline."

– Toronto Star

"[Bown] reminds us that our knowledge isn't always entirely accurate. Often, the people who get credit in history aren't the ones who deserve it. Such mistakes need to be corrected. Thanks to him, we learn that George Vancouver was at heart, a good man. He accomplished great things and, as our historical and cultural ancestor, he deserves a greater place in our collective memory.'"

– Vancouver Sun

"[Madness, Betrayal and the Lash] transcends the dry historical works most of us slogged through in our school years. With Bown as the animator, the key figures in these remarkable moments in human history spring to life, dragging the reader along on their exploits like those in a good novel."

– Rocky Mountain Outlook


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Praise for "Forgotten Highways"

"Brink and Bown's eloquent descriptions of the Rockies today would undoubtedly make the early explorers proud. And their book brings the incredible accomplishments of the pioneers into focus for modern readers without turning into a dry history lesson."

– Calgary Herald

"A well-crafted mix of history and story about a part of our immediate world that was once well-travelled but is now seldom visited and essentially frozen in time."

– Rocky Mountain Outlook

"A delightful account of a grand plan to hike important routes in the backcountry of Alberta and British Columbia, all in one summer, as a way to experience the historical reality faced by the men and women who had preceded them."

– Edmonton Journal

"This book is a compelling account of adventures in the past and present. . . .Despite the trials of wet weather and overgrown trails, they maintained their sense of humour and an appreciation for their good fortune in being able to explore these wilderness highways which played such a significant role in shaping Canada. Their book beckons us to follow."

– Canadian Literature


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Praise for "A Most Damnable Invention"

"Bown follows his well-received Scurvy with another sedulously researched and well-written popular history. He's particularly good at penning provocative theories that link seemingly modest events to monumental changes in the course of history. For example, prior to the Franco-Prussian War, the French government, unlike Prussia, refused to allow its munitions experts to develop weaponry utilizing Alfred Nobel's powerful new explosive, dynamite. The result, according to Bown, was a humiliating defeat that forced the French to submit to onerous treaty terms that helped set the stage for WWI. Bown's knowledge of his subject is impressive, and he has interesting things to say about the science and scientists central to the development of explosives; the role these explosives played in Japan, China and India; and positive changes facilitated by the use of high explosives in mining and construction. Bown also has a good eye for the unintended consequences, ironies and contradictions that are the product of social and technological force of great magnitude. That Alfred Nobel used the proceeds of his vast munitions fortune to fund the Nobel Prizes is perhaps the ultimate example."

– Publisher's Weekly

"Canadian writer Bown explores some of history's dustiest galleries to marshal personalities and events that, having changed the world, have been largely forgotten. . . . The author ventures through the ebb and flow of nitrate commerce as the vast, (literally) stinking "guano island" deposits off the Chilean coast become, essentially, the Saudi Arabia of a 19th century world in need of both nitrogen-based fertilizers and yet more gunpowder. . . . Bown effectively revisits the geopolitical intrigues that accrued around a now forgotten commodity."

– Kirkus Reviews

"It would seem hard to imagine a thrilling must-be-read-at-one-sitting page-turner in which the main elements of the story involve compost, bird droppings and chemical reactions. Yet this is exactly what Stephen R. Bown has achieved in "A Most Damnable Invention," a fast paced, gripping narrative in which these elements play major roles in the invention and development of explosives."

– The Washington Times

"Stephen Bown is starting to make a habit of uncovering little known nuggets of historical fact and weaving them into amazing stories that marry biography and science to show how one seemingly simple event can change the entire course of world history. . . . The tale is a fascinating one."

– Rocky Mountain Outlook

"With the expertise of a skilled storyteller, Bown once again provides an exciting work of popular history, this time all about nitrate, nitroglycerin, and dynamite. . . . Recommended for academic and public libraries of all size."

– Library Journal

"This excellent addition to the history of science, military history, and the history of human progress as one of accidents and good intentions deserves a much bigger audience than its focus might lead one to expect. Vivid science writing on a compelling topic."

– BOOKLIST


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Praise for "Scurvy"

"Only through the growing weight of shipboard experience, plus the efforts of a few influential naval officers, did bad theory give way to sound practice, and scurvy begin to vanish from the sailor's life. Today it is consigned largely to the pages of history–none more informative and readable than those of Stephen Bown."

– Natural History Magazine

"a swift and powerful geopolitical portrait, with scurvy as protagonist. Conquest of navies and of nations relied on taming the illness, the author writes, arguing deftly that America's War for Independence and Napoleon's campaign of conquest pivoted on the plight of scurvy-ridden ships."

– Dallas Morning News

"Bown is a meticulous researcher and a gripping storyteller. He not only delves into the fascinating turns in science and military history, but he puts the disease's origins and treatments in a social and political perspective."

– Canadian Geographic

"Bown really hits his stride with this one, weaving a tale of medical discovery into a swashbuckling adventure on the high seas that deserves to give the reigning king of the romance of science genre, Simon Winchester, a good run for his money."

– Toronto Star

"The author tells this remarkable story with the skill of a master mariner alternatively marshalling a mix of great characters and historical fact to ably navigate the mystery of Scurvy along."

– Globe And Mail

"A spirited, stimulating account of how the cure for the feared disease was found, lost, and found again. ... Splendid popular history."

– Kirkus Reviews


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Praise for "Sightseers and Scholars"

"Canadian historical writer Stephen Bown's wry style and deft choice of anecdotes underscore the depth of their passion for science."

– The Globe and Mail

"Written in economical and forthright text, each story has all the elements of a good piece of fiction: interesting characters, smart plot twists and each conveys the full arc of human lives in an historical context. . . . This is heady stuff: smart and entertaining and poignant."

– CD Syndicated, Vancouver


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