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
"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)
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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.
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.
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.
Incredible human spirit
Detailed descriptions of life a century past, men performing feats that we would struggle to accomplish with current technology, and excelling at it.
Very appropriate accent for the story.
Yes, very interesting listen.
Makes me want to learn more of Shackleton, Scott and Amundson
too many technical details
made it not too technical and detailed
did not want to listen to .
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.
I might because I love survival stories --- But this one including the cadence was tough to follow- I think I might prefer the written story for this one-
There was no inflection in the voice and I was surprised at the cadence of the book- Either the sentences don't flow in an audible format or the book was written like a text-book and not an exciting adventure with ties to other amazing stories of survival
The order of the chapters was not effective-
There were also times when it was difficult to tell which character was being spoken of-
I love the detail given to the supplies and nourishment for the expedition -- Fascinating-
while this book is an incredible story i have 2 complaints.
1) the story jumps around too much and is hard to follow.
2) the british narration falls flat and gets annoying after an hour or so into it.
Not sure - I don't usually listen to a book again.
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.
Great English accent - very suitable for the material.
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!
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.
Great listen with the exception of every time the narrator reads a Lat/Long he says (for example) 88 degrees 45.5 feet. This is usually spoken as 88 degrees 45.5 minutes. Once I realized this it made the achievements even more remarkable.
Of course I could be wrong and "feet" is common terminology somewhere else.
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