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The Last Place on Earth: Scott and Amundsen's Race to the South Pole, Revised and Updated (Modern Library Exploration) Paperback – Illustrated, September 7, 1999
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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
of polar exploration . . . a fascinating book."--The New York Times
"An extraordinarily rich reading experience."--Los Angeles Times
- Item Weight : 1.34 pounds
- Paperback : 640 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0375754741
- ISBN-13 : 978-0375754746
- Product Dimensions : 5.13 x 1.24 x 7.98 inches
- Publisher : Modern Library; Highlighting Edition (September 7, 1999)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #85,556 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Scott was such a bungler that I would go so far as to say that his name does not belong along with Amundsen's at the South Pole station.
Top reviews from other countries
The way that Huntford writes is very compelling, and I shall certainly be reading his book about Shackleton.
However, this praise comes with a but, and it is a big but.
I am not aware if Huntford has a grudge against Scott and his family, but this must be the least objective book I have ever read. Amundsen is praised from the off, and hardly comes in for any criticism at all, even though his methods of man management at times left a lot to be desired. As did his deception of his men, his creditors and his friend and mentor Nansen.
There is never a word of praise or respect for Scott or any of his team. Huntford attaches psychological analysis that he cannot possibly support, to many of Scott’s men. His character assassination of Dr Edward Wilson is particularly harsh. At Wilson’s death he writes ‘he was a born loser, that he understood’. This is terribly unfair, considering the great respect and affection that ‘Uncle Bill’ was held in by most of Scott’s party, and his achievement in reaching the Pole, even though Amundsen was first.
Huntford seems to have the American obsession with winners and losers. After the suicide of Johansen, years after the Norwegians return home, who Amundsen shunned after an argument on the expedition, Huntford says that Johansen paid the loser’s penalty .
Ultimately I would agree that the Norwegians prepared better, were better organised, more thorough, and left nothing to chance, and deserved their victory.
But I also feel that the men of Scott’s party deserve praise for their determination, and ultimately although they died on their return, Scott, Wilson, Bowers, Oates and Evans deserve huge respect for their own achievement.
I am now reading Sir Ranulph Fiennes biography of Scott, which I suspect will have a more objective view by a man who has been there and done it, unlike Mr Huntford.
It is however written by a journalist and its writing style is more reminiscent of a popular newspaper, than even-handed research. However it should be remembered that it was first published in 1979. At that time, Robert Falcon Scott's achievement in reaching the South Pole in 1912 was still being viewed relatively uncritically. And Amundsen's achievement was relatively unheralded. Huntford was the first to seriously challenge the received wisdom of the Scott/Amundsen expeditions to the Pole. He clearly started with a view that Scott was an inept bungler and by contrast Amundsen was a supremely competent polar explorer, and he set about to put the record straight, as he saw it. In doing so, he went to great lengths to castigate Scott's planning, his methods and his character by means of selective assertions, at every opportunity. So much so, that I as a reader became irritated at the constant repetition. I was less concerned about his views on Amundsen, who I would agree was a great man whose multiple achievements have not always received the acclaim they richly deserve. But even there, Huntford deploys the journalistic style of conveniently omitting any evidence which runs counter to his central assertion. And he virtually invents some of Scott's motivations. And though Huntford certainly went to great lengths to research his material, I was somewhat disappointed that he omitted specific references to his sources.
Having read a large number of accounts by those who accompanied Scott - Cherry-Garrard, Evans, Wilson, Debenham, Simpson etc. I am forced to conclude that Huntford's view of Scott's character is extremely skewed. Despite his faults, Scott was clearly a much admired leader by many of his team. But Huntford does do us a service by raising key questions about Scott's methods. I have read Susan Solomon's appraisal of the relative climatic conditions in 1911/12 (The Coldest March), where she challenges Huntford's assertion that Scott did not encounter unpredictable cold conditions. I found her argument convincing. I have also read Sir Ranulph Fiennes defence of Scott (Captain Scott). And I too found a number of his points very convincing. But without wishing to take away from Scott a jot of what he achieved, especially in the new science which he championed, there remain some fundamental issues about his methods - especially his means of travel and his planning, and I am grateful to Huntford for at least initiating a debate.
In conclusion, I enjoyed the book. But it should be read in context. It makes some very valid points. But it also maligns a man, who clearly achieved more than any of us will ever achieve.
Will be careful in future to avoid digital copies - as I am sure will all my friends