A True Story of Antarctic Survival
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A classic of outdoor adventure that, although a little dry by today’s post-Krakauer standards, remains powerful. Mawson, an Australian mountaineer/explorer who died in 1958, traveled to Antarctica as a member of a British government surveying expedition in 1913. He found the continent to be less daunting in some ways than he might have anticipated—the weather on the southern shore of the Ross Sea, for one thing, was often surprisingly mild—although certainly dangerous. As he writes, much of his team’s early work lay in the uninteresting details of packing and unpacking thousands of pounds of coal, canned food sufficient to last for two years (—preserved meats were taken only in comparatively small quantities, for in the matter of meat we intended to rely chiefly on seal and penguin flesh—), mapping equipment, and countless other bits of ordnance. He would come to miss those uneventful days when he and members of his party traveled inland from the Ross Sea shelf to map the rugged interior, where glacial ice and blizzards proved to be a constant challenge. So, too, did rocky cliffs and hidden crevasses, one of which swallowed up a comrade and his dog team. And so, too, did frostbite, which claimed bits and pieces of each of his team. Mawson writes with understatement and the explorer’s customary sangfroid (—I received rather a nasty squeeze through falling into a hole whilst going downhill, the sledge falling on me before I could get clear”), a stiff-upper-lip stance that gives way from time to time to unmistakable affection, both for his fellow travelers and for Antarctica itself, which Mawson found to be hauntingly beautiful. Sir Ranulph Fiennes, the famed British explorer, writes in the foreword to this reissue of this 1915 title that he rereads Mawson’s book —during the planning stage of each new expedition.— The lesson less practiced polar explorers might take away is: stay home and read this book.

Pub Date: Oct. 16th, 1998
ISBN: 0-312-21125-2
Page count: 544pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1998