BEYOND THE BARRIER: The Story of Byrd's First Expedition to Antarctica by Eugene Rodgers
Kirkus Star

BEYOND THE BARRIER: The Story of Byrd's First Expedition to Antarctica

Email this review


Superb reconstruction of Admiral Richard E. Byrd's 1929-30 expedition to the Bottom of the World, including a sensitive reevaluation of the famed explorer. Rodgers, a former public information officer for the US Antarctic Research Program, wastes no time stripping the gold foil off his subject's iconlike image: Byrd ""often misstated the facts to suit his purposes,"" we learn in the introduction; the brilliantly researched pages that follow (based in part on Byrd's just released private papers) underscore this assessment, revealing the legendary explorer to be a clumsy navigator, a poor pilot, a narcissist, a control freak, an alcohol abuser, and, Rodgers strongly suggests, a cheat--as when the Admiral stole a subordinate's discovery of a new Antarctic peak and claimed it as his own. At the same time, Rodgers makes it clear that Byrd was a skilled showman and a leader who ""certainly got the job done."" This last comment seems de rigueur in light of Byrd's spectacular Antarctic achievements, most notably the founding of Little America and first flight over the South Pole. These triumphs and others (as when Byrd dove into icy waters to save a drowning crewman) help turn this book into a gripping tale of high adventure, in which men's foibles--even Byrd's inexcusable lapses of leadership--become part of the harsh, danger-ladened landscape. Meticulous descriptions of pre-WW II Antarctic daily life--including innumerable rowdy parties, politely overlooked by most other historians--provide an invaluable, sometimes groundbreaking backdrop. The ""Barrier"" of the title usually refers to Antarctica's massive perimeter wall of ice, which the Byrd expedition pierced. Here, it presumably also signifies the barrier of invincibility around the Admiral. Kudos to Rodgers for celebrating the former (""a white wall stretching across the entire ocean from east to west"") and destroying the latter. This is heady, revolutionary polar history.

Pub Date: May 31st, 1990
ISBN: 1557507139
Publisher: Naval Institute