Day (Research Fellow/La Trobe Univ., Melbourne; Conquest: How Societies Overwhelm Others, 2008, etc.) examines the strange history of Antarctica, “a continent of many claimants and no owners.”
In the 18th century, much of the South Pacific was still unexplored. French, Russian and Americans vied to discover a supposed temperate continent, known as “the Great South Land,” falsely noted on maps. The expectation was that this would prove to be a habitable, resource-rich landmass suitable for colonization. This hope was dispelled when British explorer James Cook circled the South Pole and, in 1777, published a popular account A Voyage Towards the South Pole and Round the World. In his book, Cook noted the existence of massive icebergs in the region of the South Pole. In a follow-up expedition, a Russian naval officer reported that the glaciers were attached to a landmass. By the 1830s, America, Britain and France launched rival expeditions to discover whether there was a continent worth claiming at the South Pole, but the major enterprise was harvesting the abundant whale and seal populations. Because Antarctica was uninhabited, laying claim to the continent would not occur through conquest, and planting a flag on the coast to establish sovereignty was an empty gesture. The legend of the continent increased with the victorious race to the South Pole in 1912 by Norway's Roald Amundsen and British contender Robert Scott. By 1929, while Britain, Norway, Australia and Argentina all made claims to Antarctica and its potential resources, America moved pre-emptively. Richard Byrd's daring flight over the South Pole allowed him to map and photograph the entire continent. Following World War II, strategic Cold War considerations also came into play. The United States, Soviet Union and others recognized Antarctica's scientific importance and established bases there. Day’s well-researched history covers all these stories and more.
An intriguing addition to a centuries-long geopolitical adventure story.