I’m a book author and a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine, and I tend to describe myself as both a journalist and historian. In addition to the Sunday Magazine, my writing has appeared in the New York Times Book Review, Wired, The New Yorker, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Technology Review and Fast Company. Usually I write about science, nature, technology, and business. But oftentimes my work explores the intersections between all those areas. At least to me, that’s where the most interesting things happen.
My first book, The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation, was published by Penguin Press in 2012. The book chronicles the exploits of a generation of scientists at the world’s greatest laboratory, and was a national bestseller.
The Ice at the End of the World, my new book, is being published by Random House and chronicles 150 years of exploration and investigation on the Greenland ice sheet. The book was conceived as a story about ice and the process of scientific discovery; it aims to explain how the work in Greenland, aided by an evolving array of technological tools, has led us to a profound understanding of our current climate crisis. In truth, I like to think the book might be more than that. The story of Greenland’s ice sheet—the world’s largest laboratory—includes hair-raising tales of adventure and frostbite; a cast of characters who suffered misery on an almost unimaginable level; and a number of scientists who perceived in the ice a method to decipher clues to the ancient and future earth. It’s a human saga, in other words, as well as an epic of nature.
The great pleasure of practicing journalism is that it allows those of us who are shy but curious to interview strangers and seek answers to some of the world’s most complex questions. For my books and magazine stories, I get out into the field as much as I can. In researching Bell Labs, I dug through corporate archives for many years and travelled all over the country to amass hundreds of hours of interviews with the scientists and engineers who worked at the laboratory. For the Greenland book, I travelled to the island six times and interviewed scientists in Europe and around the United States, again compiling hundreds of hours of interviews. In the Arctic, I slept by calving glaciers, drank from meltwater streams, joined with NASA teams measuring the ice sheet, and cruised through iceberg-strewn waters in the strange light of Arctic midnight. One of my hopes is that this book helps readers experience at least some of what I encountered—the grace and wonder, and the increasing fragility, of the far frozen north.
I live in New Jersey with my wife and kids. I’m a lifelong New Jersey native, in fact—my father was a medical school professor and my mother taught first grade—and I grew up in the town of Berkeley Heights, not far from where I live now. While researching my recent book I realized that a team ice drillers in Greenland, in trying to procure the first ice core in history that went from an ice sheet’s surface to its very bottom, reached bedrock on July 4, 1966. And that happens—coincidentally, of course—to be the day I was born.
“Penetrating and engrossing . . . a captivating, essential book to add to the necessarily burgeoning literature on global warming.”
—Kirkus (starred review)
“Remarkably thorough . . . a fascinating chronology of scientific endeavor and discovery. . . . This is vital reading for anyone interested in how climate change has already affected the Earth, and how it might do so in the future.”—Publisher’s Weekly
“Gertner observes that it will take a “moral awakening” to spur us to confront this looming threat. Hopefully, his deeply engrossing and enlightening ice epic will instigate action.—Booklist (starred review)
“The Greenland ice sheet is one of the most forbidding, spectacular, and, in the age of climate change, significant places on earth. Jon Gertner takes readers to spots few journalists or even explorers have visited. The result is a gripping and important book.”—Elizabeth Kolbert, author of The Sixth Extinction
“The Ice at the End of the World is a masterpiece of reportage and storytelling. What Gertner has found on Greenland’s remote glaciers is a harrowing tale of extremity and survival, as well as a harbinger of our own precarious future here on earth. Equal parts science, adventure, and history, this important book is a revelation, one that lingered for me long after turning the last page.”—Michael Paterniti, author of The Telling Room
“Jon Gertner guides us on a perilous and fascinating journey to the remote island that lies at the epicenter of our understanding of climate change. With compelling prose and lucid scientific explanation, he tracks the explorers and scientists who, over two centuries, have tried to fathom the immensity and mysteries of Greenland’s inland ice. Both enlightening and disturbing, The Ice at the End of the World takes us on a gripping adventure into the thawing heart of global warming.”—Peter Stark, author of Astoria