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The Crystal Desert: Summers in Antarctica Paperback – May 7, 2002


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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In The Crystal Desert David Campbell weaves together travelogue gathered from his many visits to the wind-blasted continent of Antarctica, along with natural history, oceanography, and accounts of the tortured attempts of earlier exploratory missions "in an alien environment, beyond the edge of the habitable earth." He's a gifted writer with an especially fine hand at making his readers feel right at home in a place very few of us will ever get to see. Armchair travelers couldn't ask for a better book, no matter what the season. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

With a poet's ear and a scientist's eye, biologist Campbell brings the Antarctic to vivid, teeming life in this eloquent, comprehensive natural and social history of the ice-clad continent below the Southern Ocean. Over the course of three austral summers in the 1980s, Campell explored life "beyond the edge of the habitable earth," spending the last visit, in 1987, at a Brazilian research station--nicknamed Little Copacabana--on Admiralty Bay studying parasites in seals, fish and crustaceans. Punctuated with his personal responses (in the clarity of light after a sleet storm, he notes, "It is as if I have suddenly acquired the vision of an eagle"), early chapters detail local geology and botany, and chronicle the frenetic summer activity of penguins and seals; skuas, terns and albatrosses; plankton and krill. Accounts of the area's discovery and its exploitation in the seal- and whale-hunting expeditions that thrived 100 years ago are enlivened with reference to letters, diaries and other first-hand reports. Polished and passionate, with an immediate quality, this geographic portrait earned Campbell Houghton Mifflin's Literary Fellowship. Author tour.
Copyright 1992 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: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books (May 7, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618219218
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618219216
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #807,336 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

I like it because I worked in the same bay as the author.
rob rowley
Of course one wants to read about Shakelton and the other explorers -- but this book was for me the best, most helpful introduction to Antarctica.
HDB III
I enjoyed reading this book and it provided me with a lot of information that I found very useful.
Eltje Allen

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

36 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Scott FS VINE VOICE on June 1, 2003
Format: Paperback
Since I've visited Antarctica, and enjoyed its haunting, indifferent beauty as well as the spectacular wildlife, I was interested in reading an account of someone who had lived, studied, and conducted research there.
Campbell's strength is writing about the science, the wildlife, the extremes of weather and of living in a difficult place. His weakness is his utter lack of self-analysis. He berates the tourists who come to this place (does he think he owns the Antarctic area himself?), and laments the loss of microscopic and macroscopic life that is lost when the loutish tourist dares step on the fragile landscape, yet he is blissfully unaware of the far greater damage he does to the ecosystem when he powers up the hills to work on the weatherstation, and when he pulls up marine creatures and watches them burst, dying, under his microscope.
I guess anything is fair game when done under the guise of 'science', but woe be to the ordinary person who dares to learn about one of the farthest reaches of the planet.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Brian on November 17, 2006
Format: Hardcover
There may be a growing body of literature on Antarctica, but let's face it: about 80% of it is about Amundsen, Scott, or Shackleton. That's fine, but if you're reading in preparation for a trip to Antarctica, you want more. Campbell's book is a very readable albeit superficial overview of the wildlife and physical landscape you're likely to encounter. I agree with other reviewers that Campbell comes across as stuck-up, and I do take exception to his disparaging of tourists, since my experience has been that Antarctic tourists tend to be very environmentally respectful. I recommend the book because its insights and information did enhance my enjoyment of Antarctica and the South Shetlands.
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41 of 53 people found the following review helpful By John C. Brewer on October 1, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This was a disappointing read, mainly because it isn't about Antarctica, but about King George Island. Like writing a book about North America from research conducted on Cuba. Yes, Cuba is part of North America, but... If you want information on Antarctica, look elsewhere. Why he named it "Crystal Desert" is beyond me because there is NOTHING on the ice cap. Secondly, Campbell, who may or may not be a competent biologist, spends far to much time grinding his environmental axe. For some reason, he thinks he and other academicians are the only people with the right to go to Antarctica, making numerous disparaging comments about tourism throughout the text. Moreover, he seems to have a major problem with males - be they human, sperm whale, or elephant seal, espousing traits such as "machismo" and other derogatory human emotions to these animals simply because they are larger than the females. And finally, he spends the entire final third of the book expounding on the horrors of the seal and whale hunts that decimated the populations of these magnificant animals. Unfortunate, definately. But the book is supposed to be about Antarctica - not a treatise on over-sealing and over-whaling by people from another period in time. It does have some good descriptions of Admiralty Bay on King George Island - mainly from a biological perspective, but overall, it was a waste of time.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By R. Fiddler on November 13, 2008
Format: Paperback
The author is both a passionate biologist and a sensitive prose stylist. His paean to Antarctica combines his considerable knowledge about the continent's history and biology with his own direct observation of the place and close study of its creatures. Fully researched, critically observed, beautifully written. If you're interested in Antarctica, or just like nature writing, you need to read this book.
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9 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 1, 1999
Format: Hardcover
It would be hard for this book to be uninteresting, covering as it does the natural history and present teeming life, as well as the everyday life of a human community, in this remote area. My only objection is the use of some scientific biology words which may be common enough among scientists but which are curveballs for us lay folk. Otherwise it's a fine read. This really made me picture myself there, and want to visit Antarctica, and appreciate its role in the world environment.
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Format: Paperback
I picked up this book In preparation for my trip to Antarctica in 2016 to trace the route of Shackleton's legendary Endurance expedition on the hundredth anniversary of the crew's' rescue from South Georgia and Elephant Island. The first few pages, with it's lyrical and poetic approach to describing the strange and gorgeous environment of the Antarctic Peninsula, lulled me into thinking this would be a frozen version of Annie Dillard's PILGRIM AT TINKER CREEK, i.e., an experiential narrative offering personal reflections and wisdom derived from nature. But then I hit "the wall": pages and pages of dense scientific description of the flora and fauna. Dillard doesn't bewilder her reader in this way; she offers scientific facts only to the extent needed to draw her philosophical conclusions.

I revised my expectations, realizing that this would be a book mainly of interest and comprehensible to Campbell's fellow scientists. But I decided to stick with it. Since I am obsessive about looking up any word I come across I don't know, my reading slowed to a crawl because in many places I was looking up a new word ever other sentence. Keep a dictionary handy if you're not a biologist! Some of the words weren't even in the Oxford, and I don't mean just scientific terms, but some vernacular words as well.

However, I did learn a lot from this odd, difficult book. Odd, because of the idiosyncratic selection of topics. This is not a comprehensive scientific and historical survey of the Antarctic, but a compendium of the author's particular expertise and enthusiasms. Odd, too, because a lot of the extended information included in the end notes would have been better included in the text.
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