Forty-two selections penned by the explorers themselves make a fat but engaging compendium. During the golden age of exploration, two centuries ending in 1914, adventurers (almost all European or American) either died in or stumbled back from the world’s remote areas to write their accounts and sometimes become celebrities. Half of these accounts are simply strenuous adventures with no pretense of discovery, such as John Cochrane’s walk across Russia during the 1820s. A few expeditions were superbly organized and disaster-free (Lewis and Clark’s across North America, Amundsen’s to the South Pole); a few ended with everyone dead (Scott’s in Antarctica, Franklin’s in the Arctic); one major discovery may not have happened (Peary’s of the North Pole); the majority featured plenty of conflict and misery. Editor and historian Keay (The Great Arc, 2000, etc.) has gathered a collection unmatched in detailing the various ways men can starve, freeze, thirst, and sicken while traveling. All 42 adventurers here could write, and they could suffer; their accounts rarely express regret, but describe both their observations and suffering in fine, literary prose.
Nothing new to fans of the genre, but a rich and entertaining miscellany.