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Lawrence Millman is a man of many talents. As an author, he has written 16 books, including such titles as Last Places, A Kayak Full of Ghosts, An Evening Among Headhunters, Lost in the Arctic, and — most recently:

At the End of the World: A True Story of Murder in the Arctic (2016)
Giant Polypores and Stoned Reindeer (2013)
Hiking to Siberia (2012)
Fascinating Fungi of New England (2011)

As a mycologist, he has studied fungi all over the world, but especially in his own backyard of New England. And as an explorer, he has made over 40 trips and expeditions to the Arctic and Subarctic. The photo shows him in a contemplative mood on a beach in Siberia.

 

What’s he’s up to

  • A collecting trip in Bermuda, February 2016
  • A survey in Bermuda, December 2016
  • An expedition to Labrador, July 2016
  • My latest book is available: At the End of the World: A True Story of Murder in the Arctic, January 2016
  • A jaunt in Bermuda, January 2016
  • Explorations in Iceland, July 2014
  • Panama and Costa Rica, January 2014

Featured Review

my latest
AT THE END OF THE WORLD
A True Story of Murder in the Arctic
Kirkus Review Oct 20
A true-crime account of an Arctic mass murder in the 1940s blends subtly with a prophecy about the dangers of cyberaddiction.
Millman (Giant Polypores and Stoned Reindeer, 2013, etc.) writes about remote places with an ecologist’s conscience, and he has expressed a preference for destinations beyond the reach of Google. So it’s easy to see how this little-known tragedy came to obsess him and to appreciate how he skillfully provides parallels to contemporary times on the dangers of one culture infiltrating another. He quotes George Bernard Shaw on the Bible as “the most dangerous book on earth” and shows how it became so within one isolated Inuit community. A meteor shower convinced some that the end of the world was near, and one man convinced his neighbors that he was Jesus incarnate and that another man was God. What happened next horrified and embarrassed the Inuit culture, and they did their best to forget it, while the Canadian justice system treated it differently than if the crimes were committed outside the culture rather than within it. But as one of the natives the author met suggested, “try to kill the past and it will get stronger and more angry…like a polar bear you’ve shot and only wounded.” Millman’s investigation details how “God” and “Jesus,” along with others, began to see signs of “Satan” among their neighbors and ended up committing or ordering multiple murders of those possessed by the devil. Some were acquitted on temporary insanity, while others were given wrist-slap sentences for lesser offenses such as manslaughter. “By comparison, the Salem witchcraft trials could claim only one Satan,” writes the author. Providing contemporary context, the author chronicles one of his exploratory visits to the Arctic, which coincided with 9/11. Millman sees the internet and the cyberculture surrounding it as the new Bible and its worshippers destroying the culture it has ostensibly improved.
Even those who find the jeremiad too strident should be impressed with the manner by which Millman connects the dots..

Order your copy today at indiebound.org, amazon.com, or barnesandnoble.com.


Recent Posts

Mystery Writer

One of my finest moments occured at Na-Bolom in San Christobal de las Casas, Mexico, in the fall of 1992. I had just given a talk about the Labrador Innu in the hacienda’s library, and when I sat down, Trudy Blom, the facility’s 92 year old owner and a prominent ethnographer, said, “You are sitting in B. Traven’s favorite chair.”

A Traven book that is perilous to ignoreB. Traven was — and is — my favorite fiction writer. If you’ve seen the Humphrey Bogart film The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, then you might know that the film is based on the Traven novel of the same name.

Traven would not have wanted you to know anything about his life, however. He gave a wide berth to interviews, journalists, prizes, and publicity of any sort. Such a wide berth, in fact, that he makes Thomas Pynchon seem like a David Letterman regular.

There are quite a few theories about Traven’s identity. One theory is that Traven was the illegitimate son of the German Kaiser. Another theory is that he was Jack London, who faked his death and became Traven. Given that he, like London, wrote about down-and-outers in remote locations, this theory at least makes literary sense, which is more than I can say for the theory that he was the American writer Ambrose Bierce, who disappeared in Mexico in 1913.  Traven died in 1969, and if he were Bierce, he would have been 126 years old at the time of his death.

In all probability, Traven was the German anarchist writer Ret Marut, who, being pursued by the Kaiser’s secret police, fled to Mexico around 1925 and adopted a new name, lest he be extradited to Germany. To consolidate his camouflage, he engaged in a number of manual jobs — cotton picker, oilman, miner, etc — which gave him an excellent window on his subsequent subject matter.

“An author should have no biography other than his books,” Traven wrote, and perhaps we should respect that sentiment rather than try to prove he was really (for example) Flannery O’Connor. Perhaps we should respect that sentiment with all authors, not just Traven…

What of Traven’s books? I’m not easily moved by fiction, but I’ve been powerfully moved by The Bridge in the Jungle every time I’ve read it. This novel concerns the disappearance of a young Indian boy and a small village’s efforts to find him. I also recommend the novella Macario, which describes an elderly Indian man’s encounter with Death right after he’s obtained his life’s wish — a roast turkey.

And if you want a reading experience that out-Kafka’s Kafka, then you should procure a copy of the doubtless autobiographical novel The Death Ship, a tale of a sailor who has lost his identity papers and who signs on a “death ship” — i.e., a ship destined to be sunk at sea so that the owners can claim the insurance money.

Or you could read The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, which, believe or not, is a lot better than the movie.

Speaking of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, let me conclude this bog entry by quoting a passage from that novel — a passage that should be memorized by the myriad mining companies that have laid waste to natural environments. Howard, a gold miner, says to his fellow miners:

“We’ve wounded this mountain. It’s our duty to close her wounds. It’s the least we can do to show our gratitude for the wealth she’s given us.”

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