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Alone on the Ice: The Greatest Survival Story in the History of Exploration Hardcover – January 28, 2013

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Douglas Mawson is not as well known as Amundsen, Scott, or Shakleton, but as this intense and thrilling epic shows, he deserves a place on the pedestal next to these other great explorers of the Antarctic. Trained as a geologist, the Australian-born Mawson launched an expedition to a largely unexplored region of Antarctica in 1912. The effort soon turned into a grim struggle of endurance and survival against an unforgiving environment. Mawson and his team had to cope with the unpredictability of severe weather, hidden crevices in ice that could easily swallow a man, the loss of their food and other supplies, and their slow physical deterioration. Roberts attributes their survival in no small measure to the guts and determination of Mawson. He is portrayed here as a fascinating combination of reticence and aggressiveness, with an ability to both command and inspire his men. This fast-moving account earns for Mawson and his team a well-deserved place of honor in the so-called heroic age of Antarctic exploration. --Jay Freeman --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.


“An important missing story from the heroic age of Antarctic exploration, this book will steal the night from you. Gripping and superb.” — Laurence Gonzales, author of Surviving S

“Others have written the loose outlines of Douglas Mawson’s astonishing survival against the worst conditions that Antarctica can deliver—a lesser-known but equally compelling epic as that of Ernest Shackleton—but Roberts’s telling trumps them all.” — Gordon Wiltsie, author of To the Ends of

“This is Roberts at his best, telling a little-known tale of adventure, tragedy, and endurance. Mawson may be the most famous Australian explorer, and  is an admirable introduction of him to American readers.” — Greg Child, author of Over the Edge

“An accurate and enthralling account of the greatest story of polar exploration and survival. Roberts takes the reader back to a time of hardship, collective friendship, and a level of determination unknown in todays culture. This book will make you cherish every meal and the joys of a warm bed.” — Conrad Anker, coauthor of The Lost Explo

“If you like frostbite-inducing weather and death-defying adventure stories, then award-winning author David Roberts gives you what you want: a wonderfully told, impressively researched tale of brave explorers confronting Antarctic blizzards, a deadly landscape pockmarked with deep crevasses and intrepid men trying to come back alive.” — Chuck Leddy (Minneapolis Star Tribune)

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (January 28, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393240169
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393240160
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (116 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #406,635 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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57 of 59 people found the following review helpful By Bill Gallagher on February 1, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
After whipping through a couple great polar exploration books, I got a copy of Alone on the Ice. (Btw, I highly recommend both of these: Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage, which is the well known account of Shackleton's ill-fated, but miraculous survival in Antarctic and Arctic Adventure: My Life in the Frozen North, which though hugely popular in its day, is something of a lost classic that is a great read filled with lots of well told dramatic adventure while [unlike Endurance] giving insight into native Eskimo culture, which is fascinating.)

In "Alone on the Ice," David Roberts tells the true story of what Sir Edmund Hillary called "the greatest survival story in the history of exploration." Hillary was referring to the 1912 expedition of Australian explorer Douglas Mawson and his fellow members of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition (AAE). Mawson and cohorts set out to explore Antarctica with the intention of gathering specimens and to make scientific observations of the continent. What has left Mawson's considerable accomplishments and amazing survival story obscured by the layers of newsprint and time is--unlike Roald Amundsen and Robert Scott--he wasn't a pole bagger. Mawson, never grabbed headlines by "summiting" the south pole. Mawson and the AAE's expedition went virtually unnoticed by the public.
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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Jack de L.A. on October 26, 2013
Format: Hardcover
There's something about the cold which strikes us on a visceral level. Not only does cold have the power to drain our energy and blister our flesh, it can also make even the simplest tasks incredibly difficult. Nevertheless, during the first decades of the twentieth century, several cadres of heroic men surmounted their natural aversion to the cold and made valiant attempts to explore the most foreboding continent on earth: Antarctica. One of these attempts was the Australasian Antarctic Expedition (AAE) of 1913, which is the subject of David Roberts' new book "Alone On The Ice."

The AAE was led by a young scholar and university professor named Douglas Mawson. Roberts does a brilliant job of chronicling Mawson's life story and describing Mawson's affinity for adventure. As Roberts portrays him, Mawson was an all-around Renaissance Man, whose adroitness at surviving in the Antarctic was equaled by his brilliance as a scientist. In addition to providing a detailed narrative of Mawson's life, Roberts also succeeds in humanizing the men with whom Mawson traveled on his expeditions. All and all, the biographic sections of "Alone On The Ice" are outstanding.

While the backstories of Mawson and his fellow adventurers are intriguing, "Alone On The Ice" is a tedious read in many ways. The biggest problem with the book is its pacing. Instead of telling the story of the AAE as a crisp, streamlined narrative (as Alfred Lansing did in his similarly themed work "Endurance"), Roberts allows the minutiae of his research to slow the story down. For example, throughout the book, Roberts uses an excessive number of quotes from the diaries of Mawson and his fellow adventurers to bolster his points. A few well-placed diary quotes would've enhanced the story of the AAE.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Author/Reviewer Geri Ahearn TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 28, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Author of The Mountain Of Fear, David Roberts delivers one of the most remarkable survival stories ever told. This heart-racing adventure of courage, strength, and the will to live is indeed a book that will keep you awake all night, impossible to put down! Within the first few chapters, the reader will begin to feel almost as if caffeine is pumping through their blood as we read about near-death situations. Douglas Mawson, a great explorer and expedition leader of the Australasian Antarctic finds himself starving, crawling, and escaping dangerous situations in extreme cold weather situations. His team of men were against all odds in surviving the almost impossible horrifying events that were thrown upon them with no food, no first-aid, and no supplies to help them in their amazing journey. As those who managed to survive had to battle with fear in near-misses, and the only thing that kept them alive was their incredible spirit. This adventure is chilling from beginning to end with colorful characters, stunning photos, and an eye-opener story of courage. Entertaining, riveting, heart-pounding, and impressive. Highly recommended!
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24 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Alex S on February 6, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
I'm a sucker for good books about true adventure and polar exploration, Antarctica in particular, and my decision to buy Alone On The Ice was an impulse. I'd never heard of David Roberts before, and only had a limited knowledge of Sir Douglas Mawson and the AAE, but I took a chance because the subject matter appealed to me. As a bit of a warning, I have to admit I was initially a little baffled when the story was picked up in media res. Having finished the book, it does seem like a good idea to entice the reader with immediate action before providing the context (albeit a little jarring). Luckily, it's pretty smooth sailing from there...for the flow of the narrative that is, certainly not for the players!

The story of the AAE is a big and complex one indeed, but I feel that Roberts told the tale with something as close to elegance as possible. For the sake of the narrative Roberts is forced to omit some of the details of the expedition, but the focus here (especially in the second half of the book) is on Mawson and his incredible solo journey for survival. Without giving anything away, it really is one of the most heroic and exciting stories of survival I've ever read, and Roberts brings it to life with vivid, but never florid, writing. One of the most interesting points of the book for me was the depiction of the psychological effects of polar exploration and isolation, right down to its most devastating.

I appreciate that Roberts did his best to refrain from making personal inferences about what was going on in the minds of the men on the expedition.
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