Never Look a Polar Bear in the Eye by Zac UngerMy rating: Nonfiction
Source: Publisher (via NetGalley)
Zac heads north to see the diminishing polar bear population for himself, hoping to reconfirm his worries about climate change - and then write a book about it. The big names in polar bear science aren't interested in answering the phone, let alone showing him around the arctic, so he ends up at the base of a lesser-known scientist, Rocky Rockwell, who has some unpopular theories about the bears' diet. Then, because that's not quite enough, he suggests to his wife that they should up and move their family to the arctic for a season.
Zac's story is engaging and very down-to-earth, and he recognises his own self-interest in setting out to see the polar bears for himself. There's no escaping inherent conflict of travelling, at great environmental expense, to be the last to see a species that may be extinct thanks in part to your actions.
This is a great travelogue, but it's also an intriguing essay on the scientific method. If you've ever had a paper rejected on the grounds that your results weren't the same as someone else's, you'll sympathise with the predicament of Rocky and his grad students, who are trying a new approach to polar bear population studies. On the other hand, it's hard not to feel for the 'Heavy Hitters' (Unger's name for the top scientists), who have to balance their own research with intense media interest. There are no good or bad guys here - just different approaches, and researchers trying to do their best.