Say something about yourself!
As far as books on exploration and historic expeditions, this is about as good as it gets--written by an award winning author familiar with mountaineering, exploration, etc., using the scientific journals, letters, and diaries of members of the 1911 Australian Antarctic Exploration (AAE)--particularly Australian heroes Douglas Mawson and Xavier Mertz. Roberts article about this historic expedition in the January edition of National Geographic piqued my interest, and the book expanded the fascinating article.
The explorers set out on a 600 mi. round trip journey across the unexplored frozen land, unprepared for the icy gales over 120 mph, week long blizzards, and perilous crevasses--hidden under *ice bridges* that gave no sign of the deep chasm beneath until the ice had cracked and swallowed the victims. Of the original 27 men and 36 dogs--only Mawson survives to meet the rescue ship, covering the last 100 miles by himself. Sir Edmund Hillary, of Mt. Everest fame, referred to Mawson's final lone push to the base camp (I will let you read about the terrifying incidents yourself) as, "the greatest survival story in the history of exploration."
Roberts did fastidious research but doesn't add flourish to the journals, keeping the story as accurate and real as possible. I thought the style was captivating and kept the events immediate--the desperation and fear felt threatening, the starvation was painful. The men write about the thin canvas tents in the relentless blizzards, layers of clothing frozen to them while they slept in their sleeping bags, the maddening loneliness and quiet, peeling off layers of frozen dead skin, the paralyzing fear that each step might crack open a bottomless icy cavern--it truly is chilling. Maybe I'm less fussy than other listeners, but I felt the narrator did a wonderful job balancing the sciene with the humanity.
I'm an animal lover and feel like my dog is people...so the fact that man's best friend became man's best meal bothered me immensely--just a little personal aside. (And wasn't it enough that they ate masses of the penguins and their eggs?..did they have to entertain themselves by antagonizing them first?!) It's hard to hear about in such expressive detail...*journalized for science* the taste of boiled Husky brain...(and the NG magazine had pre-expedition photos of the poor canines--gulp). Because of the scientific nature of the expedition, this is different from, say... Into Thin Air... and the type of adventure book that is more about a personal conquest. Know that there is a lot of detail and history of previous explorers. At times, the story jumps from one group's story to a previous group, and was a little challenging to follow. The epilogue is fantastic, detailing the impact of the expedition as well as the fate of Mawson. Sitting by my fireplace, I lookled out the window and thought the snowy-20 degree day didn't look so bad.
This book is unlike any other I have read with the possible exception of the Lewis & Clark Journals. This couple undertook in 2001 a solo three-year walking tour from the southern tip of Africa to the Sea of Galilee. The book covers the first half of the journey. It is full of highly interesting encounters and candid conversations with the wide variety of people they met (mostly by chance) and who offered them hospitality during their trek. It was not without dangers (wild animals, bouts with malaria, and lawless regions the main ones), but mainly featured open and friendly encounters with people they met, even in the poorest regions of Africa.
They share conversations in which their hosts shared serious complaints about many of the corrupt and short-sighted policies being pursued by certain of the African governments, that of Zimbabwe being the worst example. They also provide their own critical and at other times awestruck (occasionally, somewhat melodramatic in my view) reactions to the sites and regions they visit.
While an unusual and interesting story, given the span of time, people and geography it covers, I gave the book four stars instead of five because I think it will be of most interest to readers who have a particular interest in visiting Africa (my wife and I are planning a visit there this year).