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A First Rate Tragedy: Robert Falcon Scott and the Race to the South Pole Paperback – November 10, 1999

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Amazon.com Review

British explorer Robert F. Scott spent three years exploring the Antarctic, returning to England a hero in 1904. His ambition was to be the first man to reach the South Pole, and he overcame innumerable obstacles to assemble another expedition, which left in 1910. Scott and three of his men did reach the pole, only to discover that Norwegian Roald Amundsen had been there only five weeks earlier. Slightly more than two months later, Scott and his companions died in their tents, their bodies--and Scott's diaries--found eight months later by a search party. This account of Scott, having followed the explorer from childhood through his naval training and marriage, gives us at the end not only a national symbol but a fully developed tragic hero. Diana Preston commendably ventures beyond the longstanding myth, including material that shows how Scott's decisions and faulty judgements ultimately sealed his fate. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

"Had we lived, I should have had a tale to tell of the hardihood, endurance and courage of my companions which would have stirred the heart of every Englishman." So reads Captain Robert Falcon Scott's message from the grave, found in a tent with his frozen corpse and the bodies of two fellow explorers, after his expedition had lost the race to the South Pole. Disheartened by their defeat at the hands of the Norwegian Roald Amundsen, the British team struggled on their return trip, succumbing to the Antarctic elements only 11 miles from the fuel and food that might have saved them. Scott was the most revered of the major Antarctic explorers of his day: Amundsen may have personified professionalism, and Shackleton, endurance; but Scott?perhaps only by dying?represented the courage and heroism that an insecure, prewar Britain craved. Drawing on the poetic writings of the explorers themselves, Preston (The Road to Culloden Moor) illuminates Scott's occasional bad luck, inexperience and even ineptitude without diminishing his unquestionable courage, honor and humanity. Indeed, it is Preston's balanced look at Scott's life and its context that sets this book apart from the many other works on the subject. Three maps, two 8-page b&w inserts.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; 1st Mariner Books Ed edition (November 10, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618002014
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618002016
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,210,737 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 32 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 7, 1999
Format: Hardcover
After reading Caroline Alexander's account of Shackleton's adventure in the Antarctic, I then read this book. How anyone can say that this is not an apologist account is beyond me! Scott's mistakes are so terribly glaring and numerous, I am baffled as to why his status as a hero remains when true leaders like Shackleton are virtually unknown to most people. The tone might be more tolerable if the author was only trying to defend Scott, however, she continuously berates both Shackleton (seemingly more on the grounds that he is Irish) and Amundsen (characterizing him as a Nordic barbarian) throughout the book and promotes Scott as the "gentleman" explorer. Shackleton was able to keep over 20 men alive over the course of 2 years, cross a 1000 miles over the ocean in something akin to a row boat and then hike over mountains to save his men. In contrast, it was almost painful to read about Scott's errors in judgment and wonder what was motivating his thinking at the time - worrying about killing the dogs for food, bringing an additional person on the trek to the pole without enough food, making sure that they did a "man" haul - which finally and collectively sealed Scott's fate as well as the fate of his men. I use the term "fate" lightly because so many of the errors in judgment could have been avoided, I finished the book believing that if Scott had been a stronger leader, he and his men would have survived the ordeal.
I still rate this book 5 stars, because regardless of the tone, I found it to be a fascinating study of weak leadership and the fatal consequences that can result from it
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By John W. Cotner on April 22, 2001
Format: Hardcover
i found this to be, overall, a good book and worth reading. diana preston's writing style was easy to read, informal and breezy, once i got into the rhythms of her "britishisms" and use of english and military slang.
ms. preston's account of robert falcon scott's doomed trip back from the south pole was gripping and poignant, and her distillation of myriad sources, diaries and letters into a cohesive, readable factual, detailed account reveals her to be a first-rate historical biographer, perhaps the best female british biographer since antonia fraser.
as i read this book, i found ms. preston to be somewhat apologetic and rationalizing for rfs, but not overly or annoyingly so, as some reviewers contend. what struck me was the focus on the amateurish, stiff upper lip, muddle through, "be a good sport and gentleman and if not live, then die heroically" mentality that seemed to permeate not only the scott venture, but most interpretations of, and rationalizations for it ever since.
it struck me as similar to the mentaility that assumed that the men on the titanic -- which went down only a month after RFS and his men died and nine months before the public learned of it -- willingly gave up their lives in response to an edwardian code of honor and chivalry. that assumption was used to rationalize the tragic deaths of rfs and his men, by turning what was really, in large part, the result of miscalculation and ineptitude, into a template example of british superior character, somehow triumphing in failure.
ms.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Toronto Resident on March 8, 1999
Format: Hardcover
A First-Rate Tragedy, while certainly well-done adds nothing to the earlier "Scott and Amundsen" written by Roland Huntford. In fact the latter does the job in more detail, with greater insights into the time and context of the Antarctic Expedition. It also covers both Amundsen as well as Scott. Finally, the author serves at times as an apologist for Scott - perhaps this is so as she is British herself!
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 18, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I guess the British define heroism differently than I do. Apparently, at least according to Ms Preston, heroism is really only based on self inflicted misery, and is really only reserved for the British themselves. I saw Scott a little differently. I saw a man who probably should have been prosecuted or court martialed for criminally negligent preparations, unneccessarily putting his life and his mens' lives at risk. He failed to plan his food, his clothing, his depots and his animals with any sense whatsoever. According to Ms Preston, apparently, doing these things propoerly amounts to "cheating", like Amundsen did. Better that they should trudge miserably to the pole on fatally insufficient rations. I don'y feel that the two competitors were presently evenly or fairly at all. This book merely perpetuates that success (non-British) was bad, and ridiculous failure (British) was herioc. I don't even know if the word tragic is correct, as that implies some sort of unforseen bad luck. Scott didn't have bad luck - he made it fail all through his own incompetence. The only ones who suffered any tragedy were his men, for the bad luck of having Scott as their commander.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Frank J O'Connor on December 29, 2000
Format: Paperback
This is a brief, very brisk rehearsal of Scott's fateful (and fatal) trek to the South Pole and partway back. If you are interested in this story and pressed for time this book concisely sets out the facts. It is well written and well organized; it is,however,also controversial because it attempts to refurbish Scott's reputation from the drubbing administered by Roland Huntford in "The Last Place on Earth." It is a nice try but it won't wash. Huntford's tome sits atop the tomb of Scott's reputation and is not budged by the light breeze of this sympathetic potrayal. The verdict must stand: Preston kind but false, Huntford mean but true.
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