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The Last Place on Earth (Modern Library Exploration) Paperback – September 7, 1999

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Product Details

  • Series: Modern Library Exploration
  • Paperback: 640 pages
  • Publisher: Modern Library; Highlighting edition (September 7, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375754741
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375754746
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.3 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (115 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #37,028 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

On December 14, 1911, the classical age of polar exploration ended when Norway's Roald Amundsen conquered the South Pole. His competitor for the prize, Britain's Robert Scott, arrived one month later--but died on the return with four of his men only 11 miles from their next cache of supplies. But it was Scott, ironically, who became the legend, Britain's heroic failure, "a monument to sheer ambition and bull-headed persistence. His achievement was to perpetuate the romantic myth of the explorer as martyr, and ... to glorify suffering and self-sacrifice as ends in themselves." The world promptly forgot about Amundsen.

Biographer Ronald Huntford's attempt to restore Amundsen to glory, first published in 1979 under the title Scott and Amundsen, has been thawed as part of the Modern Library Exploration series, captained by Jon Krakauer (of Into Thin Air fame). The Last Place on Earth is a complex and fascinating account of the race for this last great terrestrial goal, and it's pointedly geared toward demythologizing Scott. Though this was the age of the amateur explorer, Amundsen was a professional: he left little to chance, apprenticed with Eskimos, and obsessed over every detail. While Scott clung fast to the British rule of "No skis, no dogs," Amundsen understood that both were vital to survival, and they clearly won him the Pole.

Amundsen in Huntford's view is the "last great Viking" and Scott his bungling opposite: "stupid ... recklessly incompetent," and irresponsible in the extreme--failings that cost him and his teammates their lives. Yet for all of Scott's real or exaggerated faults, he understood far better than Amundsen the power of a well-crafted sentence. Scott's diaries were recovered and widely published, and if the world insisted on lionizing Scott, it was partly because he told a better story. Huntford's bias aside, it's clear that both Scott and Amundsen were valiant and deeply flawed. "Scott ... had set out to be an heroic example. Amundsen merely wanted to be first at the pole. Both had their prayers answered." --Svenja Soldovieri

From Publishers Weekly

Huntford's chronicle of the rivalry between the United Kingdom's Robert Scott and Norway's Roald Amundsen to become the first explorer to reach the South Pole, poses a substantial challenge for adaptation into the audio format. The narrative presents events in a third-person expository fashion, offering precious few opportunities for dialogue among the real-life characters. American listeners may consider Tim Pigott-Smith's British accent distracting, while others might enjoy it as a relevant bit of flair. The story contains plenty of inherent drama, but the abridgment seems to veer off course in the concluding sections, as the long-term legacies of the two polar pioneers is rather rushed. A Modern Library paperback. (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

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Customer Reviews

The reader really comes to feel that he knows these men by the end of the book.
Robert J. Crawford
In spite of the large amount of detail presented, the book reads very, very well, almost like an adventure novel.
Tina Morris
Scott and Roald Amundsen engaged in a great struggle to reach "The last place on earth," the South Pole.
Wayne A. Smith

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

92 of 99 people found the following review helpful By John L. Velonis on April 3, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I recently read "Scott's Last Expedition", the edited version of his diaries from his South Pole expedition. This left me interested but unfulfilled: I wanted to learn more about Amundsen and the context for both expeditions, and to get more analysis of the bald facts as related in Scott's diaries. So I turned to Huntford's "The Last Place on Earth".
I was not disappointed. Huntford narrates the entire lives of both Amundsen and Scott, with edifying discursions on Nansen, Shackleton, and other Polar explorers. Huntford knows Norwegian and thus was able to consult primary sources for Amundsen's expedition directly; he provides many excerpts from the letters and diaries of both British and Norwegian expedition members. He also reveals some of the omissions in the edited version of Scott's diaries.
As a minor quibble, Huntford only rarely gives full dates, so that I found myself frequently having to page back a considerable way to remind myself which year or even which month it was. An appendixed chronology would have been immeasurably helpful.
As other reviewers have noted, the author is highly critical of Scott -- occasionally unfairly so, as when he notes that Scott's first depot journey brought "a ton of supplies not quite to 80 degrees South" where Amundsen's party had "moved three tons another two degrees of latitude closer to the Pole", omitting to mention that Amundsen started about a degree farther south than Scott. But from the evidence Huntford adduces, even without his interpretations, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Scott was criminally unprepared, negligent, and generally incompetent.
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45 of 52 people found the following review helpful By Wayne A. Smith VINE VOICE on August 8, 2004
Format: Paperback
This book works at several levels. First, it is a thrilling adventure story. Second, it is a wonderful management study in planning, goal setting and organization. Third, it is a classic debunker, undermining the aura (at least in the English speaking world) surrounding Robert Scott and his tragic assault on the South Pole.

Scott and Roald Amundsen engaged in a great struggle to reach "The last place on earth," the South Pole. Each had been to polar regions before, each had become national and even international celebrities due to their trekking. Each was aware of the other party's presence on the Antarctic Continent during the same months of 1911-1912 as they raced to be the first men to stand at the bottom of the world.

Scott and Amundsen were two different breeds. Scott was a helpless romantic. Even after bitter experience and near tragedy in previous expeditions, he refused to learn from Eskimos, Norwegians or others who were battling around the turn of the century to achieve various cold weather firsts (first to the north pole, first to traverse the Northwest Passage -- which went to Amundsen -- first to cross Greenland, etc.) Thus, Scott relied on British pluck and manliness instead of skis, dogs, deer and seal suits and a properly suited diet.

Amundsen was a consummate student on the other hand. He possessed not only the gift of great vision and the ego necessary to pursue it, but also the humility to know that his trip did not have to feature every facet made anew, but should be the culmination of what others had learned when surviving and moving over the planet's most forbidding environment.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Sten Ryason on December 6, 2000
Format: Paperback
To those that felt a hatchet job was done to Robert Falcon Scott by this book, I would have to take issue. Huntford takes a hatchet to the attitudes of Victorian/Edwardian England. He points out that Shackelton (a man Huntford admires) had the self-same faults. Fortunately for Shackelton, he was more of a leader, and certainly cooler under pressure than Scott.
I think Huntford is also reacting to the lionization of Scott. For many years, Scott WAS the discoverer of the South Pole to British schoolchildren. The fact that a Norwegian had gotten there first came as something of a shock to Alistair Cooke (certainly an educated man), who hosted the televised version of The Last Place on Earth on Masterpiece Theatre. As Huntford points out, Scott's wife Kathleen and her friend, Sir James Barrie (of Peter Pan fame) had a significant hand in the editing of his diaries, so as to give the impression that Scott was more of an heroic figure.
And as for man-hauling being a vindicated technique over dogsled; only when you're being re-supplied by airdrop (something Scott didn't have the luxury of). I have to laugh at the modern explorers who compare their radio-monitored, airplane resupplied, superlightweight modern technology treks as being "in the footsteps of" Nansen, or Shackelton, or Amundsen, or even Scott. Those men were harder than iron.
The book smashes through the beautiful language of Scott's diaries, and sees into the dry language of Amundsen's. It is an excellent piece of non-fiction, and an adventure tale, and a great pair of biographies. I highly recommend it.
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