A coffee-table book with substance. When 19th-century British explorer Robert Falcon Scott finally made it to the South Pole, he exclaimed in his diary, ""Great God! this is an awful place."" Shapley, a journalist, says the Antarctic long passed its epic ""age of exploration."" The International Geophysical Year, 1957-58, ushered in Antarctica's ""age of science,"" and scientists from around the globe proceeded to probe everything from krill ecology to ionospheric physics. Now the earth's last unspoiled continent is on the brink of a ""resource age."" The Antarctic Treaty of 1961, which dedicated the region to peace and science, has precariously, if so far successfully, accommodated competing territorial claims and become a model of environmental management. But all this seems destined to change, according to Shapley, as the world enters an era of food shortages and scarce resources and 1991 approaches, the year when any of the seven nations with announced claims, including the US and the Soviet Union, can move to alter the arrangement. Should the huge stocks of protein-rich krill in the Southern Oceans be harvested, even if whales and other creatures suffer? Should the Antarctic be designated a wilderness park or a Prudhoe Bay of the South, an internationally managed oil field declared the ""heritage of mankind"" (read the developing world), much as the Law of the Sea Treaty deemed the manganese-rich nodules littering the deep ocean floors? These are the questions Americans should be asking, Shapley says. Chief determiner of events in Antarctica for more than 160 years, the US may find its influence on the wane if its current incoherent Antarctic program is not overhauled; Shapley suggests the creation of an American Polar Research Institute to coordinate environmental studies and diplomacy. Nothing fancy or poetic or nostalgic here, this is for those who want more than cliches and the usual pretty pictures of the so-called seventh continent.