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Scott of the Antarctic: A Biography Paperback – November 6, 2007

4.1 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. If ever a man needed saving from the enthusiasm of his admirers," Crane begins, "it was Scott." But although this hefty biography strips away much of the legend and mystique surrounding the polar expeditions of Robert Falcon Scott, it's still infused with hero worship. In addition to his leadership skills, Crane claims Scott was the only polar explorer to possess significant literary talent, and his writings—especially the final message scrawled as he lay dying in the Antarctic wastelands—"extend our sense of what it is to be human." The twin centerpieces of Scott's story are, of course, his two expeditions to Antarctica, both of which are recreated here with meticulous detail. Crane understands, however, that Scott's accomplishments in the polar region were shaped by his earlier experiences in the Royal Navy; thus the narrative is equally strong in recounting how Scott was able to overcome fierce opposition to his leadership of the first trip and how the rivalry with former crewmate Ernest Shackleton spurred the second. "Personality and character went on playing a decisive role in polar exploration long after it had been relegated to the margins of other history," Crane writes, and for all the dramatic action, it is Scott the man who most captivates the author—and readers. 16 pages of photos, maps. (Nov. 15)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Robert Falcon Scott and his four companions died from hunger and cold in 1912; they had reached the South Pole on January 18, only to discover that the Norwegian Amundsen had beaten them there a month earlier. The confirmation of Scott's death was met by an outpouring of public grief in Britain; he was quickly elevated to the status of an imperial martyr, on the level of Wolfe, Nelson, and Gordon. But in subsequent decades, journalists and biographers painted Scott as a self-absorbed, rash blunderer whose hubris led to the needless death of himself and his men. Crane strives to present both the heroic and less-admirable aspects of Scott's public career. He also provides interesting glimpses of the turmoil in Scott's private life. It is Scott's accomplishments and failures as an explorer that make his life so compelling, and Crane's story is at its best when he uses Scott's letters and diaries to describe the Antarctic expeditions. Here we see an enthralling, beautiful, but deadly landscape. This is a fair and often exciting saga of a still controversial figure. Jay Freeman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (November 6, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400031419
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400031412
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,651,451 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By John Matlock on February 19, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I particularily like the subtitle to this book, 'a life of courage and tragedy.'

Scott was undoubtedly courageous. He could not have been otherwise. On the other hand, his courage and drive to get to the South Pole was not exactly balanced by experience or perhaps by common sense. There's an old saying that if you wanted to get somewhere like the South Pole, Scott would have been a good leader to follow, but if you wanted to get back, then other expedition leaders like Shackleton would be your first choice. Shackleton's quotation: 'Better a live donkey than a dead lion.' Consistent with this, Scott got to the South Pole, Shackleton didn't. Scott didn't get back.

In this book, the author is clearly a deep admirer of Scott. And indeed he did great things. Coming from a humble beginning he appeared driven to accomplish things, and he did. He was a complicated man, and Mr. Crane's access to the family papers and Scott's letters give a view that is perhaps more balanced than what we have seen before.

If nothing else, Mr. Crane is an excellent writer and the story becomes one of those can't put down books.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is the 17th book I have read on the Heroic Age of Antarctic exploration, and with the exception of Roland Huntford's The Last Place on Earth, it is the best. Crane's book is a biography of Scott, not an analysis of his expeditions, and is thus somewhat skimpy on the details, especially on the journey that resulted in Scott's death. (By contrast, Crane presents a thorough discussion of Scott's Western Journey on the earlier Discovery expedition, and I learned a great deal from it.) One bizarre comment jumped out at me early on: Armitage, the pilot on the Discovery journey, is the only source of a couple of the most famous anti-Scott/pro-Shackleton anecdotes, and Crane dismisses their truth in part by calling Armitage a "proto-Fascist" because Armitage enjoyed feeling the power of the ship as he rode high above it in the crow's nest. Just an odd remark.

Thankfully, the rest of the book, though opinionated, is not marred by such ill-founded judgments. Quite the literary stylist himself, Crane argues that Scott's saving grace was his ability to give voice to the suffering he and his men endured. In a sense, then--as was said of one of the characters in Macbeth--"Nothing in his life became him like the leaving it." Thus Crane presents a much more balanced portrait of Scott than Huntford does, and though Huntford's book has the detail and coverage of Amundsen that this one lacks, Huntford's savage tone really becomes off-putting after a while. If I were new to this topic, I would read Huntford, watch the magnificent production of The Last Place on Earth on DVD, and then read Crane's book.

Crane's maps could have been better done--my memory is that only one has a scale attached to it--but overall this is a beautifully-written, well-researched biography that is an indispensable read for those interested in the subject.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
By far the best recent biography of the explorer. Crane charts a discerning course between the “Heroic Legend” of Scott’s Last Expedition and its leader’s overzealous debunkers and defenders. While acknowledging the justice of most criticisms of Scott’s naval methods, Crane rescues him from the outright character assassination begun by Roland Huntford. In analyzing Scott’s leadership, Crane contrasts the inexperienced but confident young officer of the Discovery Expedition with the man who returned to Antarctica a decade latter, beset by family and financial worries, unsure of himself in his strange marriage, and embittered by his rivalry with Shackleton. That this man lost the Pole to Amundsen was almost predetermined; yet, Crane accepts the conclusion reached by Susan Solomon and Scott’s own Message to the Public: that extraordinary weather on the Barrier, not his expedition’s flaws, killed Scott and his companions. To this biographer, Robert Falcon Scott’s idealism—realized fully only in his death—redeemed him as a man, if not quite as an explorer. Whether or not the reader finds Crane’s arguments convincing, his book is meticulously researched and marvelously written. Only its relative paucity of illustrations, given the wealth of photographs available, was a minor disappointment
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Format: Hardcover
David Crane shows how the death of the explorer Captain Scott galvanized the UK on the edge of World War I, but he qualifies British response to the tragedy by pointing up that, despite the weight of popular opinion, the pre-war Edwardian years were not exactly the Golden Age of empire the way they are nowadays painted. Crane's life of Scott is in every way a re-revisionist biography, kicking against what he feels has been the unfair denigration of Scott's life and deeds over the past thirty years.

Sometimes this approach works, sometimes it doesn't. Through meticulous handling of evidence, he tells the story without a hint of strain, and yet sometimes whole paragraphs stop the action to argue that history has shafted Scott once again. A prototypical Englishman in the days when "God was an Englishman," Scott has suffered from unthinking backlhas, or so says Crane, and indeed he says it about four hundred times so that, frankly, I began to sympathize with Scott's attackers a bit, for no one's that perfect.

Indeed Crane admits as much, citing his rivalry with Shackleton and then finally with Amundsen as proof, but in each case, the other man is deeply at fault and Scott was just trying to muddle through on Naval smarts and years of experience leading men. It was a time for heroics, and something in the air (together with a thriving media culture) made heroes out of the most unlikely souls. England expected every man to do his duty, and alas so did Norway and Amundsen came home with the gold, so to speak, whereas the Englishmen after the same glittering prize were all dead by the time Amundsen returned home. "The Englishmen, the goal accompished," bleated the press, "lay quiet in the snows. Through the months since . . .
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