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To Read with Hot Cocoa: ‘Never Look a Polar Bear in the Eye’ by Zac Unger

Friday, February 1st, 2013

Who doesn’t love polar bears? Author Zac Unger, father of three children, is kind of obsessed with them. He wrote the new book Never Look a Polar Bear in the Eye: A Family Field Trip to the Artic’s Edge in Search of Adventure, Truth and Mini-Marshmallows.

Unger had me at mini-marshmallows. (Never Look a Polar Bear in the Eye was one of my picks for 2013.) This hilarious and informative memoir follows Unger, a firefighter from California, on a journey to Churchill, Manitoba, population: 943. It’s a harsh place where one can easily freeze to death during a night time stroll. Or worse, you could be eaten by a big white mammal–this is the ‘Polar Bear Capital of the World,’ after all.

He presents the rawness of the people there. “I like to go for walks, but it’s a little awkward to push the baby stroller and carry a shotgun at the same time,” says a Churchill housewife. (The shotgun is protection from the polars, just to be clear.) Upon arrival to this world-famous tourist and scientific research destination, Unger had the agenda to write that humans are doing bad things and killing off the bears. But surprising himself, he found two sides to the story. Our society may be callous and consumer-crazy (global warming! tourist invasion!), but he’s not sure if that’s really the problem. He found out that there are up to five times as many polars alive today as there were 40 years ago.

What’s the right answer? Unger lets the reader decide for herself, and that is really cool.

Most pressingly, I wanted to get inside his head. He took his three kids and wife to the Arctic?! Unger assures me that their time was well spent. He says, “It was definitely worth missing a few months of school for!” He went on to explain what his family will remember most: “Halloween, which requires that all trick-or-treaters be accompanied by armed guards in case of bear attack. Kids are prohibited from dressing as ghosts, brides, or anything else that’s all white so that there’s no confusion over who’s a bear and who isn’t.”

Cozy up to a fire and check out this funny, insightful wintry read. Fans of Wild, Into the Wild and other outdoorsy tomes will love Never Look a Polar Bear in the Eye. 

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