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Running with Reindeer

Russian Lapland, a region of amazing contrasts. Here lies the last true wilderness of Europe, a rich and pristine ecosystem teeming with bird and animal life. But here too lie the dark, satanic mills of the former Soviet Union and the rotting remnants of nuclear submarines. Running with Reindeer is the first account in over a century to describe life in this harsh but beautiful land. Living among remote reindeer-herding and hunting families, Roger Took spends a decade following the lives and traditions of the indigenous Lapps, or Saami. He meets pioneering villagers descended from medieval Novgorod fur-traders who are now learning to cope with the new economy, and the men and women originally forced north to mine Russian Lapland's fabulous mineral wealth but are now unemployed and stranded. Avoiding the still vigilant security services, he explores the naval bases where nuclear-powered submarines are lying dangerously neglected. His encounters with the land and its inhabitants are dramatic and comical as well as emotionally disturbing and physically dangerous. Moving between the lines of the official histories, coping with arduous Arctic conditions, he writes compellingly, offering a vivid account of a unique part of Europe.
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About the Author

Roger Took is an art historian and museum curator living in London and Ireland. He has held several museum posts in England and is an active Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society.


Wanting to explore Europe's last wilderness, Took, an art historian and museum curator, made numerous trips during the 1990s to the far northwest corner of the Russian Federation and evocatively recounts his journey. Traveling alone, he camped, stayed in deplorable hotels and lived with the few people in Russian Lapland who would invite a stranger into their homes. First he went to the interior to find the Saami, the indigenous people who have herded reindeer for thousands of years in a region that is still rich with wildlife. Then, ignoring warnings that the area was too dangerous, he went to the northern coast, a restricted military zone. Although he was not always successful at evading the patrols and border guards, he managed to see some of the decaying nuclear-powered submarines and nuclear reactors that are rotting along the grim coast of the Barents Sea. He also visited Monchegorsk, home to nickel-processing plants that have polluted thousands of square kilometers as far away as Finland, Sweden and Norway, and went on an expedition with an organization doing research on Soviet forced labor camps. His wide-ranging book encompasses thousands of years of Russian Lapland's history, from the time when the Saami lived in harmony with nature to today, when a region whose traditional ways were devastated by Soviet collectivism is now succumbing to the economic problems that beset modern Russia. This is a fascinating, albeit bleak, portrait of a largely unknown part of the world. Photos not seen by PW. (Dec.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Russian Lapland is considered by many to be Europe's last wilderness; it's above the Arctic Circle, encircled by the Barents and White Seas and bordered by Norway, Finland, and the Karelia Republic. Originally the home of the Saami people (also known as Lapps), the region boasts herds of reindeer, rivers full of fish, skies traced by birds of prey, and, in startling contrast, abandoned nuclear submarines and toxic mining operations. Englishman Took-an art historian, museum curator, avid fly fisherman, and naturalist-has long been fascinated by this relatively obscure area. Over a period of several years, he made numerous trips to Russian Lapland to explore, fish, seek out the Saami still there, and record the region's unique history. Took encounters both friendship and suspicion as he travels, and there are moments of high drama when he is arrested for trespassing on military property and when he discovers ancient Saami petroglyphs. Unfortunately, the time line for his numerous visits is confusing and rarely defined, but there are four excellent maps, a number of archival photographs, and a useful glossary. Recommended for large public and academic libraries.-Janet Ross, formerly with Sparks Branch Lib., NV Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

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