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Alone on the Ice: The Greatest Survival Story in the History of Exploration | [David Roberts]

Alone on the Ice: The Greatest Survival Story in the History of Exploration

On January 17, 1913, alone and near starvation, Douglas Mawson, leader of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, was hauling a sledge to get back to base camp - the dogs were gone. Mawson plunged through a snow bridge, dangling over an abyss by the sledge harness. A line of poetry gave him the will to haul himself back to the surface. On February 8, when he staggered back to base, his features unrecognizable, the first teammate to reach him blurted out, "Which one are you?"
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Publisher's Summary

His two companions were dead, his food and supplies had vanished in a crevasse, and Douglas Mawson was still 100 miles from camp.

On January 17, 1913, alone and near starvation, Mawson, leader of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, was hauling a sledge to get back to base camp. The dogs were gone. Now Mawson himself plunged through a snow bridge, dangling over an abyss by the sledge harness. A line of poetry gave him the will to haul himself back to the surface.

Mawson was sometimes reduced to crawling, and one night he discovered that the soles of his feet had completely detached from the flesh beneath. On February 8, when he staggered back to base, his features unrecognizably skeletal, the first teammate to reach him blurted out, “Which one are you?”

This thrilling and almost unbelievable account establishes Mawson in his rightful place as one of the greatest polar explorers and expedition leaders.

©2013 David Roberts (P)2013 Blackstone

What the Critics Say

"Painting a realistic portrait of Aussie explorer Douglas Mawson and his arduous trek through some of the most treacherous icy Antarctic terrain, Roberts gives the reader a very close look at the huge risks and preparations of the nearly impossible feat…Harrowing, exciting and brutally real, Roberts provides a chilling backstory to polar explorer Mawson’s bold solitary survival tale." (Publishers Weekly)

"Mountaineer and prolific author Roberts returns with a vivid history of Australian explorer Douglas Mawson and his 1912 exploration of Antarctica…. Roberts creates a full portrait of Mawson and does justice to what famed mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary would later call 'the greatest survival story in the history of exploration.'" (Kirkus Reviews)

"Douglas Mawson is not as well-known as Amundsen, Scott, or Shackleton, but as this intense and thrilling epic shows, he deserves a place on the pedestal next to these other great explorers of the Antarctic…. This fast-moving account earns for Mawson and his team a well-deserved place of honor in the so-called heroic age of Antarctic exploration." (Booklist)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

3.7 (101 )
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3.9 (91 )
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3.8 (89 )
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  •  
    Jacqueline Denver, CO, USA 01-30-13
    Jacqueline Denver, CO, USA 01-30-13 Member Since 2004

    Say something about yourself!

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Historic Death-defying Antarctic Expedition"

    Australian Douglas Mawson set out on a journey in 1912 to explore the Antarctic, with a goal of scientific observations and specimen gathering. It was a year long undertaking with three other members of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition (AAE), Belgrave Ninnis and Xavier Mertz. Both of these men died during the expedition, one falling into a crevasse, and the other succumbed to spoiled meat. Mawson continues on alone and encounters extreme situations as he tries to find his way back to camp.

    The story is comprised from journals kept by Mawson and the two other men from that perilous journey. It is definitely a raw, chilling account of the hardships they went through. Their supplies were insufficient, their clothing not warm enough, and the food scarce. As they trekked through the ice and blistering winds, most of their dogs were lost as they became too weak or sick to continue. The animals definitely did not fare well from the very beginning-and met with unpleasant ends- as a warning to tender-hearted readers.

    Overal it is a good book for those who enjoy this kind of historical adventure.

    So why did I only give it three stars? I didn't care for the narration, as it was too much the same type of monotone throughout. Also, the book was confusing at times, as it jumped from one event to another without enough of a break in narration or explanation about what was going on. I had to rewind several times just to clarify the content.

    I could see myself enjoying this story much better in book form.

    14 of 15 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Robert Mechanicsburg, PA, United States 02-04-13
    Robert Mechanicsburg, PA, United States 02-04-13 Member Since 2011
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    "Emotionless and Repetitive"

    I generally like true adventure tales and this one was on an exploration of Antarctica that was unknown to me.

    However, the narration and delivery was devoid of almost all emotion. I contrast it to the story and narration of 'Into Thin Air' by Jon Krakauer. In that book, you could understand and empathize with the Everest quest and sense the extreme dangers involved.

    Here, the story is told in an almost matter of fact, police report style. " Mawson fell down a crevass....he climbed out on his second attempt." Yawn.

    Another issue was, and this is not the narrator's fault, that some information was repeated at times. I wondered if this book was written by a 'team' and several chapters made references to the same events or technical information.

    If this is truly the 'Greatest Survival Story in the History of Exploration', it surely was delivered in dead-pan as I almost missed the climatic parts.

    All in all, I am glad to have learned about Mawson and his experiences in Antarctica and the challenges, but they were delivered with such a lack of emotion that as another reviewer said, it probably would have been a better read.

    6 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Melinda UT 02-07-13
    Melinda UT 02-07-13 Member Since 2009

    So hooked by audio that I have to read books aloud. *If my reviews help, please let me know.

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    "Put Another Log on the Fire"

    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.

    15 of 20 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Bradley ROSEVILLE, CA, United States 12-20-13
    Bradley ROSEVILLE, CA, United States 12-20-13 Member Since 2008
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    "Great Story"
    If you could sum up Alone on the Ice in three words, what would they be?

    A great adventure that I'd never heard of before, Mawson and the AAE was a completely new story.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    Mawson, he never gave up


    What does Matthew Brenher bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    Great story teller.


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    I did to the hardships they had to endure, as an outdoors person I've said to myself "is this worth it".


    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ronnie Mars, PA, United States 12-13-13
    Ronnie Mars, PA, United States 12-13-13 Member Since 2009

    Say something about yourself!

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    "outstanding as always"

    I wish I had listened to this book before the endurance. this is the prior story leading up to Shackelton's surviving on his next trip. All I can say it. you must get this and those are some real men. and RIP to those that did not make it.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kevin SwindonUnited Kingdom 11-14-13
    Kevin SwindonUnited Kingdom 11-14-13 Member Since 2003
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    "Great tale but ..."
    What do you think the narrator could have done better?

    A narrator reading about geography should realise that latitude and longitude are measured in degrees and minutes - not degrees and feet. This and a few other strange pronunciations introduce a jarring note into an otherwise well read book.


    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Don LEBANON, PA, United States 03-16-13
    Don LEBANON, PA, United States 03-16-13 Member Since 2012
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    "Inspiring story, man against mother nature"
    If you could sum up Alone on the Ice in three words, what would they be?

    Incredible human spirit


    What did you like best about this story?

    Detailed descriptions of life a century past, men performing feats that we would struggle to accomplish with current technology, and excelling at it.


    What about Matthew Brenher’s performance did you like?

    Very appropriate accent for the story.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    Yes, very interesting listen.


    Any additional comments?

    Makes me want to learn more of Shackleton, Scott and Amundson

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ellaine Santa Fe, NM, United States 02-25-13
    Ellaine Santa Fe, NM, United States 02-25-13 Member Since 2012
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    "very difficult to get into"
    What would have made Alone on the Ice better?

    too many technical details


    What could David Roberts have done to make this a more enjoyable book for you?

    made it not too technical and detailed


    What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

    did not want to listen to .


    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    dss Los Angeles, CA 02-07-13
    dss Los Angeles, CA 02-07-13 Member Since 2003
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    "Thrilling Adventure"
    Would you listen to Alone on the Ice again? Why?

    Not sure - I don't usually listen to a book again.


    What was one of the most memorable moments of Alone on the Ice?

    When you realize what a dire situation Mawson and Mertz are in with most of their food and tent gone and still hundreds of miles from base.


    What does Matthew Brenher bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    Great English accent - very suitable for the material.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    No - too long for that, although, due to the intense nature of the experience, whenever I stopped listening, I felt disoriented for an hour or so realizing that I have all the food I want and am not freezing to death!


    Any additional comments?

    I disagree with the other reviewers that the performance was emotionless or monotonous. I thought it perfectly suited the material. I had just finished "Adrift", another survival story of 76 days alone at sea in an inflatable raft, so this was an interesting counterpoint. This makes me want to learn more about the Heroic Age of antarctic exploration.

    One minor thing - I also noticed the mistake another reviewer noted about the narrator saying "feet" instead of "minutes" for geographical coordinates. Someone probably should have caught that and corrected it, but it's fine once you get used to it.

    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Saman Houston, TX, United States 07-06-14
    Saman Houston, TX, United States 07-06-14

    sam_perera

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    "Title is misleading …"

    We have all heard about Scott, Shackleton and Amundsen and their heroic journeys and sacrifices during the golden age of Antarctic exploration. But who has really heard of Douglas Mawson? I certainly did not know of this man’s escapades during the early part of the 20th century until I heard this book recently. It is a painstakingly researched, well written story of Mawson’s adventures trying to explore the unexplored regions of Antartica. The Australasian Antarctic Expedition (AED) was a remarkable scientific foray into the hellishly cold and windy regions of the south pole. Many remarkable characters make up the expeditionary party and crew of the steamer Aurora as they journey towards packed ice fields, stormy seas and the hurricane gusts of Commonwealth Bay. Many early chapters of the book is devoted to Mawson’s earlier life as an explorer and his ambitions to create the AED. Individual party members are also studied in detail and described. I particularly enjoyed the stories of Frank Hurley, the expedition photographer. The actual harrowing story of how Mawson survives the perilous journey on the ice alone for 30 days after his two compatriots die is remarkable but only plays a smaller part of this book. That is the reason I think the book was mistitled. Nevertheless, the story is an amazing piece of history that needed to be told for future generations.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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