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Antarctica: An Intimate Portrait of a Mysterious Continent 1st Edition

4.7 out of 5 stars 67 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0151015207
ISBN-10: 0151015201
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Who travels to Antarctica, and why? Setting aside tourists who sail to the relatively accessible Antarctic Peninsula, Walker (An Ocean of Air, 2007) addresses her curiosity to the scientists and support personnel at stations various nations maintain on the ice-encased continent. During several separate journeys, she stayed at a half-dozen outposts operated by the U.S., the UK, Russia, France, Italy, and Argentina and learned the protocols of cold-weather survival, accompanied scientists on their fieldwork, and observed how people cope with the environmental extremes and awesome geographical isolation of Antarctica. Accenting particular individuals she met, Walker notes their motivations to come to Antarctica––usually professional for the scientists and often an interest in adventure for construction workers and cooks––while also paying attention to women who challenged no-girls attitudes on staffing Antarctic stations. Together with the human-interest element, science propels Walker’s narrative, which refracts scientists’ explanations of their research into penguins, glaciology, geology, astronomy, and climate change. Interspersed with historical vignettes of Antarctic exploration, Walker’s account affords a vibrant vicarious experience of traveling around the place on earth most like an alien planet. --Gilbert Taylor

Review

"Gabrielle Walker describes very well current activities on the vast ice sheet, from the constant discovery of new undersea life to the ongoing hunt for meteorites, which are relatively easy to track down on the white ice. For anyone who has ever wondered what it’s like to winter at 70 degrees below zero, her account will be telling...Absorbing."—Bill McKibben, New York Review of Books

"A dazzling array of narratives throngs Antarctica...Antarctica is still the 'world’s most mysterious continent,' as it remains the only one on which humans have never lived permanently. Walker captures that mystique through interviews with people who have made Antarctica part of their lives." —Nature

"Walker's a clear explainer and engaging guide, her descriptions evocative...The true protagonist here is Antarctica itself, and in Walker's rendering it easily carries that leading role."
Tampa Bay Times

"Walker tells in rich detail what it’s like to survive and do science on the only continent never inhabited by human beings. She spends time with dozens of investigators, revealing both their work and the inner workings of their minds...Walker offers a diverse sampling of the seventh continent and the science done there." American Scientist

"A vivid portrait...We are all anxious Antarctic watchers now, and Walker's book is the essential primer." —The Guardian

"Walker gained access to a variety of fascinating places and projects. There are fresh and informative sections on the fauna and microflora of this harshest of all habitats, on the use of Antarctica as a terrestrial and cosmic observatory...Walker is also good at sketching the oddly beguiling world of the scientists and support workers who return year after year to Antarctic research stations." —The Telegraph

"Hugely informative...Walker uses direct speech to render the material digestible, allowing her protagonists to speak for themselves. She has a gift for lay analogy, as a popular science writer must." —The Spectator

"The fascinating story of Antarctica, from the hardships of exploration to its future survival." —The Ecologist

"Walker’s account affords a vibrant vicarious experience of traveling around the place on earth most like an alien planet." —Booklist
 
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1 edition (January 15, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0151015201
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151015207
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (67 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #155,627 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Niki Collins-queen, Author VINE VOICE on December 17, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"Antarctica: An Intimate Portrait of a Mysterious Continent" is an extraordinary book written by an extraordinary woman. Gabrielle Walker weaves all the significant research about the threads of life on Antarctica's vast ice sheets into a profound tapestry of what it's like to be there.
Walker says because Antarctica is the oldest landscape in the world it's still telling its story to anyone who stays long enough to hear. Although Antarctica is bigger than the continental US and has forty-nine temporary bases it officially belongs to nobody. An international treaty was signed by forty-nine countries declaring the entire place to 'peace and science' in the early 60s.
Walker reports the history and cutting-edge science experiments on the giant West and larger East Antarctic Ice Sheets, the vulnerable Western Amundsen Coast, the rapidly warming Antarctic Peninsula, the massive barrier-like Ross and Ronne Ice Shelves and the South Pole.
It's fascinating to learn how the South Pole's Remote Earth Science and Seismological Observatory looks inwards to the Earth's core to measure earthquakes and construct an image of the Earth's mantle - it has a liquid outer core made of pure iron and a hot hard solid sphere of iron in the center. Because the observatory picks up the seismic waves of nuclear bombs they can make sure nobody cheats on the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.
At the same time giant telescopes high on the summits of the high plateau of the eastern ice sheets probe the cold, dry sky to see parts of the Universe that other telescopes can't reach.
Walker says the Earth's history, buried as bubbles of ancient air in ice core samples in Antarctica tell us beyond any doubt that our burning of oil, coal and gas has significantly changed our atmosphere.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I chose this book because I thought it would be an overview of Antarctica, a place I've wanted to know more about for a long time. It was that and so much more. It's the perfect place to start learning about the continent.

"Antarctica: An Intimate Portrait of the Word's Most Mysterious Continent" is a profound narrative of the author's stay on the continent. She spent quite a bit of time there, and shares it all - the scientific studies she visited and took part in, the history she found, the people she met, and the feelings she had along the way. I appreciate that the author didn't get too technical, but the material isn't "dumbed down" either. It's exactly the right narrative for us non-scientists and history nerds. I really couldn't ask more from a book like this. It was a more than satisfying read.

Thanks to the fantastic notes the author has left us, including a list of "further reading," it will be easy to find out more about this lonely, dynamic continent.

I'll be searching out more of Gabrielle Walker's writings. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
From the October 18, 2012 House of Lords debate on Antarctica:
Lord Gilbert: "If I may burden your Lordships, I recommend to you all reading a marvelous new book written by an Englishwoman called Gabrielle Walker. It is simply entitled Antarctica. It is 350 pages long; I have another 30 pages to read. It is brilliant. Anyone who reads the penultimate chapter alone will take seriously the question of human responsibility for our future as being reflected in the developments in West Antarctica."
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Having read books about the "heroic" Antarctic explorers such as Scott, Mawson, Amundsen, Shackleton and others, but never paying much attention to what has happened on that continent since then, and never having been to Antarctica myself, this book provided an interesting glimpse of what has been happening there recently and what has changed over the past century.

And what changes there have been.

The men of 100 years ago who struggled to reach the South Pole by the only means possible at the time - months of arduous and sometimes fatal journeys on foot - would be astonished to find humans living there year-round today, with living comforts similar to home, and in constant contact with home.

The author, who has spent considerable time on the Antarctic continent herself, takes us along with her on visits to the Amundsen Scott station at the Pole as well as a number of other of the outposts scattered across the continent, all of which are there for the purpose of doing scientific research (with one odd exception). She tells us about having a drink with 800,000 year old ice cubes (presumably for the novelty, as one can't imagine too much demand for chilled beverages in Antarctica), how the atmosphere at each station various according to the nation that runs the station (naturally the French have the best food), how she went from hating penguins to loving them, and more - and colors the whole experience with stories from the heroic age of exploration. You'll pick up a lot of little factoids, including learning that children and domestic animals are prohibited on the continent.

Another of the things that has changed since the heroic age is that women are now present on the continent - as the author tells us over and over, as though this is a surprise.
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