Pioneering Arctic Author Jean Malaurie Dies at 101

Classic arctic books are rare, but the author of one undisputed masterpiece died earlier this week in Dieppe, France.

Jean Malaurie’s The Last Kings of Thule recounted his experiences in Northwest Greenland in the early 1950s. The small, isolated population, which had flirted with extinction for centuries, had recently received another blow when they were relocated from their traditional hunting era to make room for a U.S. military base.

Ethnographer-explorer Knud Rasmussen and his partner Peter Freuchen established a trading post at Thule for local Inuit in the 1920s, but by 1951, the Inuit had been moved further north to make room for a secret nuclear base for aircraft and missiles during the Cold War.

A phone at Thule Air Base some years ago.

A phone at Thule Air Base some years ago. Photo: Jerry Kobalenko


Malaurie, trained as a geographer, lived and traveled by dogteam with the displaced Inuit. In 1955, he published a sympathetic account of his years with these great arctic travelers. It was the first book in a famous series of ethnographic accounts that included Claude Levi Strauss’s Tristes Tropiques.

Qaanaaq, where the people from Thule were moved in the early 1950s.

Qaanaaq, where the people from Thule were moved in the early 1950s to make room for a U.S. air base. Photo: Jerry Kobalenko


Malaurie’s highly readable book about a remarkable people who had only been discovered 100 years earlier made him a preeminent arctic scholar. He became a defender of the rights of arctic minorities in many parts of the circumpolar world.

“I just wish my ashes [to be] scattered over Thule, Greenland,” he told a magazine shortly before his 98th birthday.

Jerry Kobalenko

Jerry Kobalenko is the editor of ExplorersWeb. One of Canada’s premier arctic travelers, he is the author of The Horizontal Everest and Arctic Eden, and has just finished a book about adventures in Labrador. In 2018, he was awarded the Polar Medal by the Governor General of Canada and in 2022, he received the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Medal for services to exploration.