Bown (1494: How a Family Feud in Medieval Spain Divided the World in Half, 2012, etc.) delivers an intensely researched, thoroughly enjoyable life of one of history’s best explorers.
As the author demonstrates, Roald Amundsen (1872–1928) was certainly the most skilled polar explorer. Obsessed with adventure from boyhood, the teenage Amundsen led companions on exhausting attempts to cross the mountains of his native Norway during winter. He joined the 1897 Belgian Antarctic expedition, receiving a painful education on the consequences of poor planning. In 1903, he outfitted a fishing boat with a crew of six and crossed the Northwest Passage from Greenland to Alaska. Moored for two years in the Arctic, he eagerly learned from the local Inuit. The lessons he learned—ignorance of which killed many polar explorers—included: Animal-skin clothes trump wool, and transportation requires dogs and skis. The crossing gave Amundsen international celebrity, making it easier to finance an expedition to the North Pole. When both Robert Peary and Frederick Cook claimed to have reached it (a controversy that persists), Amundsen aimed for the South Pole, announcing the decision before Robert Falcon Scott announced his expedition. Superbly organized and supplied, Amundsen’s expert skiers and dog handlers won the race in 1911 and survived, while Scott’s less efficient team died. After World War I, Amundsen failed to reach the North Pole by plane but succeeded by dirigible, finally disappearing in 1928 while flying to rescue another expedition.
A superb biography of a fiercely driven explorer who traveled across the last inaccessible areas on earth before technical advances made the journey much easier.