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Race to the Pole: Tragedy, Heroism, and Scott's Antarctic Quest Paperback – November 16, 2005

3.5 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"We are weak, writing is difficult, but... I do not regret this journey," quotes Fiennes from one of the last letters of Capt. Robert Scott, who reached the South Pole in the summer of 1912 and then perished on the return trip. For generations of Englishmen, Scott was a hero. In the late 1970s, however, a bestselling biography called Scott's exploits into question and his reputation suffered. In this finely honed and riveting account of adventure, death and betrayal, Fiennes, who was the first man to reach both poles by land, seeks to reclaim Scott's place in the pantheon of great and honorable explorers. Fiennes details the tortuous conditions and grim reality of Antarctic exploration at the turn of the last century. Throughout the ordeal, Scott showed leadership, compassion and an unquenchable will to live. Alas, these attributes proved insufficient in the face of a blinding blizzard; he starved and froze to death on his journey home. In a gentle and urbane tone, Fiennes frequently cites his own extraordinary experiences to give perspective to Scott's story. In Fiennes's estimation, Scott succeeded where others failed: he respected his men, was the pride of an empire and made a legitimate and lasting contribution to scientific understanding. Four 8-page b&w photo inserts, maps.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Robert Scott, a British naval captain, entered into legend when the Antarctic exploration party he headed in the polar summer of 1911-12 failed to return home. Fiennes, an accomplished explorer and travel writer, evokes a ringing you-are-there tone in his authoritative reconstruction of that fateful trip in a book that also serves as a comprehensive biography of Scott himself. Scrupulously researched (with the cooperation of the Scott estate) and astonishingly felt--given Fiennes' extensive travel exploration experience, including polar trips--this account follows a fascinating and difficult man, "born delicate, weak chested, moody, quick tempered, and inclined to laziness," who tested himself all the way to his last act: freezing and starving to death on the unsuccessful return leg of his exploratory push to the pole. Fiennes' treatment defines creative nonfiction; of the many books, several of them recent, on Scott's expedition, this one will prove a popular addition to active travel-literature collections. Brad Hooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Hyperion; Reprint edition (November 16, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 078688858X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786888580
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,092,208 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By M. Hawling on January 7, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This book is not so much a story of Scott's Antarctic expeditions but a debunking of Roland Huntford's version of Scott. Fienees argues his case best when he directly addresses the Huntford version of history in his final chapter. However the rest of the book has many weaknesses and is less convincing.

Fiennes denies he is biased towards Scott. This is hard to be entirely convinced of as he repeatedly raises Scott up by dragging down Shakleton, other members of the expedition and especially Amundsen. The chapter that describes Scott reaching the pole ends with a vitriolic paragraph out of nowhere on Amundsen and his failure in life after his polar success. Scott is made out to be almost without a flaw. The only flaw is his moodiness which somehow everyone else just seem to laugh away. Scott is just too squeaky clean with a neat excuse for any failing.

Most of the negative material that exists on Scott from Cherry-Gerard or Atkinson is dismissed by Fiennes as being written long after the fact so it becomes questionable and can be dismissed. This can be argued the other way that only then did their loyalties and being honourable not prevent them from saying the truth. Up to the reader to choose.

Much value in this books analysis seems to be based on Fiennes incredible achievements in exploration. His analysis sometimes seems odd, like when he himself says that in manhauling across Antartica he couldn't take a toothbrush due to the extra weight yet he dismisses Scott hauling back 35 pounds of rock as not making much of a difference. There are several instances of these odd statements.

He also seems to excuse or argue favourably for some of Scott's questionable decisions or preparations.
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Format: Hardcover
I have not had the chance to post many reviews at Amazon for some time now but after reading this excellent biography I had to sit straight down and start typing. This new biography on Captain Scott by Ranulph Fiennes will rank in my top ten books for 2003 (released in Australia last year). I have to confess that I have no in-depth knowledge on artic travel and exploration other than having read a few good books on the subject.

Having said that, out of the books that I have read on the subject this has to be the best so far. In any book I read I always have a look at the background (or pedigree) of the author. In this case Ranulph Fiennes has the personal experience of many years of artic travel & exploration to back up his claims and theories in his account of Captain Scott.

By referring to his own experiences in the same areas and similar circumstances you get a much better idea of what was possible and why and what wasn't possible and why. He also is able to put to rest many of the myths and fairy tales surrounding Scott's South Pole expedition and the fate of himself and his companions.

After finishing this book I really felt I had a much better understanding of what these brave men attempted and why they failed or didn't fail depending on your point of view. As other reviews have indicated, maybe the author tends to lean to Captain Scott's defence too much but then again maybe Captain's Scott's reputation needs to be picked up from the dust of history and given a good polish again, its well deserved.

I would have no hesitation in recommending this book to anyone who wants to know what really happened to Captain Scott.
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Format: Hardcover
I had never of Sir Ranulph Fiennes before I read this book. I knew nothing about him or his exploits as an antarctic traveler. Now, having read this book, I feel that Fiennes is a man I would like to know. I do know that I like his book very much.

What are the things I like about Fiennes? First and foremost, he has written a well-researched, fascinating account of Robert Scott's two expeditions to Antarctica, focusing on the final trip of 1911-12 where Scott reached the South Pole a few weeks after the Norwegian Roald Amundsen and perished on his return journey. Whatever else one wants to say about this book, it lives on Fiennes very engaging prose. For that alone, he has my respect. But there's more.

I am not the kind of man who likes reading books where the main purpose is to tear down historical figures. There is a tendency these days to make sure we have no more heroes in history but this is a trend I deplore. Fiennes makes it very clear that he feels the same. Scott's reputation has been damaged by biographies in recent decades and Fiennes wants to set the record straight. He doesn't do so by making Scott an angel and Shackleton & Amundsen devils, but by presenting Scott as a man who faced challenges most of us cannot even imagine and did the best he could which, usually, was pretty good.

Which leads to another important point: unlike any previous biographer of the recent past, Fiennes knows whereof he speaks. I cannot stand cold weather and dread the approach of the New York winters I have to live through. Fiennes has manually pulled a sled across Antarctica much like Scott did. Fiennes has experienced many of Scott's challenges and understands what it takes to succeed and survive.
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