Spufford, of the Guardian in London, plumbs the cultural fascination and aesthetic attraction of cold regions for British explorers, and how their romance with snow was fashioned by an evolving national sensibility, in this smartly argued, wide-ranging book. The polar regions--with their isolation, nullity of landscape, cold so extreme that ``the breath of the travellers crystallizes and falls to the snow in showers''--were explored by many nations (not to mention the Inuit, who lived there), but by none more than the superbly ill-experienced British. Cook, Franklin, Scott, Shackleton--what drove these men to the ends of the earth, wondered Spufford, ``Why do these insane things?'' Well, he answers, it's more than just a passing fancy. Drawing on the diverse works of Byron, Coleridge, Cruikshank, the Shelleys, Conrad, and many others, the author paints an extraordinary portrait of a culture shaped by the notion of cold and its representations. A yearning for the sublime, for sights great and terrible, played a part, as did the strength of soul necessary to tangle with the most hellacious elements--to brush with them, or even to be utterly beaten by them, was to be touched in a rare way. There were the uncertainty and filtered truths from which spring romance and fantasy. There was the chance for the explorers to distinguish themselves, to shoulder a heroic mantle. Each chapter is an archaeology of the British love affair with ice, Spufford often unearthing unattractive strata: the class nature of exploration, colonialism, racism toward the Inuit, who undercut all the heroism by the simple fact that they lived where the explorers more often died. Spufford elegantly details how all these images, elements, and metaphors came home to roost in the Edwardian imagination, leading directly to parts unknown.