Polar Imperative

POLAR IMPERATIVE:  A History of Arctic Sovereignty in North America

Polar ImperativeA definitive history of sovereignty in the North American Arctic, by a foremost expert in the field.

“Based on Shelagh Grant’s thirty years of groundbreaking archival research on Arctic sovereignty and her reputation as a leading historian in the field, Polar Imperative: A History of Arctic Sovereignty in North America is a definitive overview of the attempts by many countries to claim sovereign rights over the polar regions of North America. Unlike numerous other books on the subject, this authoritative volume covers Alaska and Greenland as well as Canada, balancing the implications of major changes in climate, science and technology, and international law against the competing ambitions of those countries seeking sovereign rule of the Arctic.

Of particular importance is Grant’s use of archival documents to reveal previously unpublished details surrounding Britain’s 1880 transfer of the Arctic islands to Canada, and the identity of those who firmly secured Canadian title to the archipelago in 1925. By comparing the actions of various governments over two millennia, she concludes that Arctic sovereignty has historically depended less on legal interpretation or military might than on the ice cover that restricted access to adjacent waters, and the speed with which countries have acted to assert sovereign authority.

Polar Imperative is a thought-provoking challenge to all readers to consider what is needed to adapt existing sovereign rights to current realities while protecting the fragile Arctic environment from irreparable damage. With a refreshingly multinational perspective, Grant clearly places the onus for action on the leadership of those Arctic countries with the most to lose—Canada, Russia, Greenland/Denmark, the United States, and Norway—and reminds us that there is little time to waste.”

This engaging, timely history examines:

  • the unfolding implications of major climate changes
  • the events, issues and strategies that have influenced claims to authority over the lands and waters of the North American Arctic, from the arrival of the first inhabitants around 3,000 BCE to the present
  • sovereignty from a comparative point of view within North America and parallel situations in the European and Asian Arctic
  • the impact of resource exploitation on the indigenous peoples
  • the current high-stakes game for control over the adjacent waters of Alaska, Arctic Canada and Greenland

Told from a Canadian perspective, this book will become a standard reference on Arctic history and will redefine North Americans’ understanding of sovereign rights and responsibilities of Canada’s northernmost region.

Hardcover: 560 pages

17 maps, 81 photographs
Publisher: Douglas & McIntyre;  First edition (July 5 2010)

Language: English

ISBN 978-15536-541-8-6 (Hard Cover)
ISBN 978-15536-806-1 (Soft Cover)
ISBN 978-15536-618-1 (E-book)
Product Dimensions: 22.9 x 16.3 x 4.3 cm

  • Winner of the 2011 Lionel Gelber Prize for the best English language book on global affairs
  • Winner of the 2011 J.W. Dafoe Prize for the best book on Canada, Canada’s relations in the world and history
  • Winner of the 2011 Canadian Author’s Association Lela Common Award for Canadian history
  • Finalist for the Governor General’s Sir John A. MacDonald Award, co-sponsored by the Canadian Historical Association and Canada’s History
  • Short listed for the 2011 Shaughnessy Cohen Award for the best book on political affairs.

Comments by Reviewers:

  • “History has shown that Arctic sovereignty is not static. Rather, it is a constantly changing legal, intellectual, and political construct that is most mutable in times of crisis. In light of current fears about dwindling natural resources, a global recession, and global warming, this book could not have come at a better time. Polar Imperative is a book that needed to be written and one that should be read. ” Dawn Alexandrea Berry, Oxford University, International Journal, Autumn 2011: 1063. 
  • “…meticulously researched and ably presented, with a wealth of fascinating detail and end notes to match.” M. Maduro in Arctic (Journal of the Arctic Institute of North America) December 2010.
  • Polar Imperative is a valuable and important read for history and science collections, highly recommended.” Midwest Book Review, October 2011
  • This book is a ‘must read’ for every Canadian who is interested in the history of the Arctic: Grant recounts the fascinating story of how Canada — a modest and sparsely populated country — successfully asserted sovereignty over the entire Arctic Archipelago in the face of considerable odds.”  Policy Options,  Jim Prentice, Minister of the Environment, September 2010
  • Shelagh Grant’s riveting history of adventure, sovereignty, and environment around the Arctic Ocean, is a comprehensive account of the interplay of politics, economics, institutions and culture that few ever experienced first-hand. Her well-told chronicle deftly documents the back story on diplomatic and military events well before the 24-hour news cycle. As climate change melts the polar icecap and for the first time makes competition for undersea natural resources possible in a fragile ecosystem, Grant also reshapes our mental model of the world’s important borders and vital global trade routes. Her book is must-read background for what could well become the next ‘great game’.”  Paul Cadario, Washington DC, Chair of the 2011 Lionel Gelber Prize Jury.
  • “Grant’s comprehensive survey comes across as a fresh look at a region that has long consumed our identity as Canadians.” Canada’s History, September 2011
  • “Despite seeking to inform a public audience, Grant’s scholarship provides a richly footnoted argument accompanied by a comprehensive bibliography. Copiously and imaginatively illustrated. Highly Recommended.” Choice Magazine, American Library Association. December 2011
  • “This is a book that you could dip into every time Arctic sovereignty pops up. There is a good index, excellent maps and well-chosen illustrations. Peter Adams, Arctic geographer and former MP for Beyond the Hill Times January 2011.
  • “The book as a whole is expertly documented and eminently readable.”  Russell Potter, Arctic Book Review, February 2011
  • “…in this well-written and encyclopedic work, in Whitehall, the Chanceries of Europe, the State Department in Washington and the Cabinet rooms of Ottawa, ces quelques arpents de neige have always been linked to sovereignty,” The Times Literary Supplement (London), Nathan Greenfield, 24 September 2010
  • “Polar Imperative is the first really detailed study of 200 years of North American sovereignty in the Arctic, written from a Canadian vantage point but with excellent documentation of American, Danish, British and Norwegian histories.”   — The Globe and Mail, Doug Saunders, Chief of G&M European Bureau,  June 19, 2010
  • “Grant knows this stuff better than anyone and has always told her complex tales well.” —- Toronto Star, May 22, 2010
  • Polar Imperative may well be the best book ever written on the history of the Arctic in North America. In the age of climate change and competition for Arctic resources, this original and provocative book will spark renewed debate about the future of the North. Essential reading for anyone seeking to understand what is going on in the Arctic today.”  — Ken Coates, Dean of Arts, University of Waterloo, author of Arctic Front, May, 2010
  • “This is the book for ‘southerners’—a well-written study with wonderful photographs that is the product of a lifetime’s research into Canada’s sovereignty in the Arctic and the political and environmental threats we face today. Shelagh Grant has confirmed her position as our leading historian of the North”  —  J.L. Granatstein, historian and Professor Emeritus, May 1, 2010

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