Like A Long Desire (1979), this is a compendium of curiosa--waspish but non-stinging accounts of human folly and foul-ups in the pursuit of knowledge. In the opening piece, ""Olduvai and All That,"" Connell reviews the history of dating human bones from Archbishop Ussher's deduction that God created the universe in 4004 B.C. to Leakey's investigations in Olduvai Gorge. Similarly, he follows the fortunes of the Etruscans from their first appearance in Herodotus, to the puzzles of Etruscology (such as the hazy sources of the dialect), to the passionate mysticism of D. H. Lawrence's Etruscan Places (dismissed here as whipped ""rainbows""). Some real excitement is generated in the title piece on the rigors of polar exploration--polar ice is ""the great white lantern""--but its best moments are drawn bodily from Lennard Bickel's Mawson's Will. There are skeptical looks, too, at Norse sagas, Greenland, and a forgotten dreadnought launched by Sweden's Gustavus Adolphus (which capsized the day it was launched); at cuneiform, hieroglyphics, and Mayan inscriptions; and at noted astronomers. An intriguing array of oddments--but the mind fuzzes over waiting for Connell to stop savoring his own crotchets and really bite into his subject.