THE COLDEST MARCH by Susan Solomon


Scott’s Fatal Antarctic Expedition
Email this review


A painstaking, no-frills recreation of Robert Falcon Scott’s South Pole bid, with a new perspective on the expedition’s cruel fate, from NOAA senior scientist Solomon.

It didn’t take long for the memory of Scott to turn from one of honor to derision, from hero to bumbler—a leader so inept that it’s a wonder that he made it to the Pole at all. No matter that the source of this image was generated in the backstabbing and beard-pulling world of envious scientists and explorers anxious to put down the work of a rival, it nonetheless stuck to Scott like grease from a seal-oil lamp. Out to set the record as straight as she can, and provide a complete picture of the expedition—balanced by short lead-ups to each chapter in the form of a contemporary Antarctic visitor narrating his experiences on a visit to the wondrous polar landscape—Solomon debunks the more outlandish accusations heaped on Scott: to the contrary, Scott’s team’s logistics were smart (if closely cut), and his leadership qualities were apparent most everywhere. More importantly, she suggests that Scott and his associates ran into a particularly nasty patch of weather (even by Antarctic standards) on their return from the Pole. That, plus some rotten luck when his boat got stuck in the ice, resulting in the team’s late start. Solomon also demonstrates that it is more likely that dehydration, rather than scurvy, plagued the explorers, that Scott was not crippled by Victorian inhibitions preventing him from eating seal meat, and that the thin, high-altitude air of Antarctica also contributed to their weakening. There are also important portraits of the expedition members, lending a sense of how the team interwove their strengths and weaknesses.

A compelling case for rescuing Scott from the Land of Ridicule. (photos from the expedition archives)

Pub Date: Sept. 10th, 2001
ISBN: 0-300-08967-8
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Yale Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2001