A thorough, mostly partisan analysis of the great explorer’s life and work.
In ex-Navyman Rose’s second book on Byrd (the first, Assault on Eternity: Richard E. Byrd and the Exploration of Antarctica 1946–47, was published in 1980), the author attempts to both document Byrd’s life and deal with many of the criticisms directed at him. Rose (Power at Sea: The Breaking Storm, 1919–1945, 2006, etc.) begins by sketching Byrd’s adolescence. These passages contain a prescient example of a criticism that would continue to dog the explorer throughout his life—his capacity to exaggerate the truth when recalling his journeys—as Rose drags some truth out of the contradictions surrounding the tale of Byrd traveling across the globe alone at the tender age of 11. The bulk of the book is comprised of Byrd’s epic adventures. Details surrounding his controversial flight over the North Pole in 1926 (for which he earned the Medal of Honor) are among the most interesting, with Rose delivering a compelling case against the critics who scorned Byrd’s claims to have made this audacious trip. Byrd’s trans-Atlantic journey in 1927 also garners close attention, but it’s the thrilling recollections of his trips to Antarctica, many of which are based on the intrepid explorer’s own words, that really impress. Of particular interest is the five-month period in 1934 that Byrd spent in isolation manning a meteorological station, barely escaping with his life after suffering carbon-monoxide poisoning. Rose effectively captures the brutal conditions and the deterioration in his mental and physical health during this period, as he goes from writing eloquently about the aurora australis to barely recognizing himself as he looked in the mirror. The author makes no attempt to mask the rampant egotism and often impenetrably stubborn nature of his subject, but he generally expresses a clear affection for him throughout.
Manages to pump new life into some well-documented tales.