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Antarctica: Exploring the Extreme: 400 Years of Adventure Hardcover – October 1, 2001
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From Library Journal
Freelance writer and earth scientist Landis made several trips to Antarctica to research this historical survey of Antarctic exploration. The book is divided into three parts. Part 1, on general exploration, describes the voyages of the great explorers Ferdinand Magellan, Sir Francis Drake, James Cook, Capt. F.F. Bellinghausen, James Weddell, Dumont D'Urville, Charles Wilkes, Sir James Clark Ross, Robert F. Scott, Sir Ernest Shackleton, Roald Amundsen, and Richard Byrd. Part 2, on regional exploration, covers expeditions to the Antarctic Peninsula, the Weddell Sea, the Ross Sea, East Antarctica, and selected sub-Antarctic islands. Part 3, on historical geography and wildlife, chronicles the geological development of the continent and its wildlife. Landis has a knack for quickly characterizing historical figures, mentioning that Magellan "was a small, wiry, unassuming man with a severe limp" or that Drake was "permanently lamed" by a Spanish musket ball still in his leg from his exploits in Panama. There is some overlap of coverage, and names from Part 1 inevitably resurface in Part 2, but this well-written history is the best recent historical survey of Antarctica and a very good purchase for public and undergraduate collections. John Kenny, San Francisco P.L.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Landis, a geologist and earth scientist specializing in Antarctica, traveled to the continent seven times to research this book, which documents dozens of voyages to the region. She begins with diaries and narratives of the famous (and the obscure), including Magellan, Cook, Drake, Ross, Scott, Shackleton, Amundsen, and Weddell--men who searched for the unknown land and "respectively found acclaim and ignominy." With the aid of 25 black-and-white photographs, Landis narrates the Belgica expedition, which got trapped in the pack ice along the Antarctic Peninsula; the Endurance expedition, Shackleton's great epic of survival and hope in the Weddell Sea pack ice; and Douglas Mawson's horrific solo trek back to Commonwealth Bay. Landis also explores this hostile climate's geography and wildlife. George Cohen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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You hear all the time that the standards of book production are not what they used to be, and often, it is too true.
But the book suffers from a major flaw that so many other books on Antarctica suffer - the lack of maps and illustration. She takes great pains to describe details of trips, discoveries, and pushes towards the pole, yet there is only a rough map of explorations (which does not neatly correspond with what is being written about) and one somewhat detailed map inside the cover, which is inadequate and does not even show the entire continent. I found myself frustrated and turning to other atlases to try and put her descriptions into real life context. It keeps the book from really reaching some of its potential.
Also, in the last chapter of the book, Landis goes on to describe the animal life of Antarctica, which is very good. But it quickly gets boring and tedious with no illustration of the animals she is describing. Again, to differentiate between the various types of penguins or seals would be helpful to see what is being written about. Instead we are forced to work with the mind's eye, which is a sin when trying to introduce the wonder and diversity of life.
These deficiencies keep a good book from being a great book. Still, worth giving a chance, if nothing else that to give yourself a glimpse into an area many of us yearn for, but few will ever get to see.
Into this context she places the intrepid men who sailed out and sought this legendary land since the 1500s. Most interesting is her depiction of the great explorers for the rogues gallery they were, as opposed to the sanitized versions from history books. Many were in league with the monarchy of their country seizing plunder from their enemies and seeking to extend the influence of the monarchs they served.
The entire book is worth buying for the beautifully crafted first part which delivers a historical, philosophical and at the same time very personal context for understanding the role Antarctica has played through the ages.
However, for true fans of exploration acounts, note that there is nothing new here, and the stories of individual journeys are quite brief. The author also has no opinions or new scholarship on offer -- the tone is journalistic and rather cold -- except for one instance, which is mentioning over and over the awful whale and seal killing in the 19th century. I think it is very bad scholarship to "PC the past," when clearly people of an earlier period can't be held to the same standards we have today for treatment of the environment, because they simply didn't know, as we do now, what the impacts of their actions might be. (And knowing hasn't really made us better stewards either.)
One other problem is that there is one tiny map in the front of the book, very difficult to read, and so the journeys described throughout are hard to visualize -- a series of maps would have been more helpful than the murky, featureless photographs that are used to head up each chapter.