A comprehensive, expertly rendered narrative history of Antarctica’s most-visited region.
Owing to numerous nearby islands that aided nautical exploration, the Antarctic Peninsula, jutting 1,000 miles north of the main continental mass, is where humans first explored the last-discovered continent and where most tourists visit today. Similarly, Boothe uses the Peninsula region to hook readers. The subtitle notwithstanding, this book doesn’t so much confine itself to the Peninsula as make it the face of Antarctica, the starring character in a geographic drama spanning 500 years—an alluring but indomitable mistress beguiling and frustrating suitor after suitor. The main title is dead-on. Ice is an ever-present antagonist thwarting all who dare challenge the harsh environment, and Boothe tells their stories with such authority, readers forget she was not part of their expeditions. From the legendary—Magellan, Cook, Shackleton, Amundsen, Byrd—to lesser-known sealers, whalers, meteorologists and geologists, she captures their motives, struggles, heartbreaks and triumphs. Men suffer frostbite and scurvy. Pack ice traps, crushes and sinks their ships. They must shoot and eat their sledge dogs. Those who survive, return, gradually claiming new territory and earning the place-names on today’s maps. Boothe has accomplished a difficult task—producing a historical account scholarly enough for textbook use while engaging enough for a general audience. The feat is all the more remarkable considering this is her first book. Her fascination with Antarctica dates to childhood, and her travels include circumnavigating the continent on an icebreaker. First-hand knowledge is evident, along with impressive scholarship. Literature cited runs to 311 entries, and the endnotes contain (for some readers, “bury” is perhaps more accurate) a wealth of information. Three appendices, a glossary, timeline and “firsts” provide still more information. In-text maps, figures and photographs abound. Large- and small-scale maps of Antarctica thoughtfully placed on the inside covers and end pages facilitate frequent referencing.
For those accustomed to browsing glossy photographic surveys of icebergs, penguins and sea lions, this 373-page tome may loom as a foreboding trek, but serious readers, armchair historians and geography or maritime buffs will find it a most rewarding journey.