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The Last Place on Earth [Paperback]

Roland Huntford , Paul Theroux
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (60 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Sept. 7 1999 Modern Library Exploration
At the beginning of the twentieth century, the South Pole was the most coveted prize in the fiercely nationalistic modern age of exploration. In the brilliant dual biography, the award-winning writer Roland Huntford re-examines every detail of the great race to the South Pole between Britain's Robert Scott and Norway's Roald Amundsen. Scott, who dies along with four of his men only eleven miles from his next cache of supplies, became Britain's beloved failure, while Amundsen, who not only beat Scott to the Pole but returned alive, was largely forgotten. This account of their race is a gripping, highly readable history that captures the driving ambitions of the era and the complex, often deeply flawed men who were charged with carrying them out. THE LAST PLACE ON EARTH is the first of Huntford's masterly trilogy of polar biographies. It is also the only work on the subject in the English language based on the original Norwegian sources, to which Huntford returned to revise and update this edition.
--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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On December 14, 1911, the classical age of polar exploration ended when Norway's Roald Amundsen conquered the South Pole. His competitor for the prize, Britain's Robert Scott, arrived one month later--but died on the return with four of his men only 11 miles from their next cache of supplies. But it was Scott, ironically, who became the legend, Britain's heroic failure, "a monument to sheer ambition and bull-headed persistence. His achievement was to perpetuate the romantic myth of the explorer as martyr, and ... to glorify suffering and self-sacrifice as ends in themselves." The world promptly forgot about Amundsen.

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

Review

"A remarkably vivid picture of the agonies and feuds, as well as joys,
of polar exploration . . . a fascinating book."--The New York Times

"An extraordinarily rich reading experience."--Los Angeles Times

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the South Pole was the most coveted prize in the fiercely nationalistic modern age of exploration. In this brilliant dual biography, the award-winning writer Roland Huntford reexamines every detail of the great race to the South Pole between Britain's Robert Scott and Norway's Roald Amundsen. Scott, who died along with four of his men only eleven miles from his next cache of supplies, became Britain's beloved failure, while Amundsen, who not only beat Scott to the Pole but returned alive, was largely forgotten. This account of their race is a gripping, highly readable history that captures the driving ambitions of the era and the complex, often deeply flawed men who were charged with carrying them out.

The Last Place on Earth is the first of Huntford's masterly trilogy of polar biographies. It is also the only work on the subject in the English language based on the original Norwegian sources, to which Huntford returned to revise and update this edition.

Roland Huntford is the former Scandinavian correspondent for the London Observer. He is the bestselling author of two critically acclaimed biographies of Ernest Shackleton and Fridtjof Nansen as well as the novel Sea of Darkness. He lives in Cambridge, England.

Jon Krakauer is the author of Into Thin Air, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and Into the Wild. His work has appeared in many magazines, including Outside, Smithsonian, and National Geographic. He chose the books in the Modern Library Exploration series for their literary merit and historical significance--and because he found them such a pleasure to read.

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First Sentence
On the morning of November 1st, 1911, a little cavalcade left Cape Evans in the Antarctic, straggled over the sea ice and faded into the lonely wastes ahead. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Huntford's book is Revisionist and Biased June 20 2001
Format:Paperback
There are two important facts to remember about The Last Place on Earth. The first is that its author, Roland Huntford, comes to it with the clear agenda of debunking Scott and lionizing Amundsen. The second is that he has the benefit of more than fifty years of historical hindsight, which makes it easy for him to criticize Scott for apparent incompetence. He's also not above fabricating so-called "facts" if doing so helps him further his cause of tearing down the Scott legend (I'm thinking of his more or less unfounded allegations that Kathleen Scott had an affair with Nansen). The truth regarding Scott and Amundsen and their respective expeditions is naturally somewhat more complicated. The Last Place on Earth is not a bad book. It's not necessarily even bad history. But it is revisionist, and heavily skewed, written by a man with a clear agenda. If you want a more fair, balanced, and compassionate view, read Diana Preston's A First Rate Tragedy. Read the Scott chapters of Francis Spofford's I May Be Some Time. And read Scott's and Amundsen's own published records of the events. Because let's face it: nobody knows what really happened better than the men to whom it actually happened. And they left their own perfectly adequate accounts.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Amundsen isn't without faults either Feb. 24 2011
By Marc Ranger TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Obviously, those who can't find fault with Robert Falcon Scott won't like the book. If you are one of those, read "The Coldest March" by Susan Solomon. You'll find it to your taste.

However, if you are ready for a solid analysis about how Roal Amundsen and Scott each organized and faced their heroic voyage to the South Pole, THIS is the book to read. The book covers Amundsen's and Scott's origins and background in Polar travel (Scott badly overmatched there).

When Amundsen learned from previous voyages, namely his NorthWest Passage succes and the Belgica's wintering inside the Antarctic's circle, Scott still hung to man-hauling, having learned absolutly NOTHING from his Discovery days. The paradox with Scott lies in the fact that so-called "impartial" historians who praised him has a "scientific-minded" explorer cannot explain why this "scientific-minded" navy officer still had his crew travel like cavemen in horrific conditions.

Amundsen isn't without faults either. His treatment of Haljmar Johansen for instance wasn't very gracious to say the least.

I'll let you draw you own conclusion, but,for my taste, Roland Huntford analysis is the definite work on the South Polar Race of 1911-1912.
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Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Huntford's research into the contrasting quests for the South Pole in 1911 is based upon multiple diaries and private letters. His narrative is compelling, giving a 'you-are-there' feel -- a real page-turner. I had viewed the DVD 'Last Place on Earth' several times, and found the book (the foundation of the BBC series) a perfect complement. Interestingly, attitudes or faults which led to the failure of the British expedition led by Falcon Scott, are elucidated in painstaking detail, but the same event in the film version has to be covered in a brief scene. I was astounded by the skill of the BBC cinematographers after reading Huntford's account. Anyone who (still) thinks that Scott was an intelligent, brave leader who perished with his men due to unexpected bad weather needs to read this book. Also, Amundsen's skill, meticulous preparation, and steely determination to succeed are vetted thoroughly. A must-read for fans of this genre.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Should be a classic. Feb. 18 2004
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Controversial perhaps, but also an exceptionaly well-researched, page-turner story. The author, Roland Huntford has also written several other biographies, all of which stand at the top of the large heap of related polar-exploration books. This book was renamed from "Scott & Amundsen" after a PBS series was produced, based on this account -- which used the new title. I strongly recommend reading this, and if you believe that the author takes a biased view (against Scott) then you should read on to the many other accounts available.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Superb. (Don't feel offended if you're english) Feb. 14 2004
Format:Paperback
Mr. Huntford really makes the grade.
It is hard to find any literature by the English on Amundsen's feats if not only to be used as a dark background to those of their fellowcitizen, Scott. It is very disappointing indeed and were it not for Mr. Huntford's excellent book, one would think anglosaxons simply cannot discuss their own failures.
Is the book biassed? Of course, wherever there is a human being as an author there is subjectivity. Don't make me laugh. The whole thing is to try to stick to healthy criterion and sound information when discussing your subject matter. This Mr. Huntford does extremely well.
And yes, the man has a certain dislike for Scott. Easy to understand: there are lots of anglosaxon books praising Scott's ultimate failure (unless your goal is martyrdom, euthanasia or the like, if you don't finish your journey alive you HAVE failed)
So what? aren't all those other books about Scott often simply sentimental elegies to Scott? and they lack the profoundness of research and open discussion of the facts we can enjoy in this one.
Read "A first rate tragedy" on Scott, by D. Prescott, and you'll see what I mean (on the bad side). On the other hand, read "The noose of laurels" by H. Wally, and you'll have another fine example of thourough presentation of facts and their interpretation.
Amundsen was a real explorer, he succeeded through all of his undertakings, simply because he had a modern approach (professional) to things. All the flaws in Scott's plans would not occur to the most idiotic explorer of our days: i.e. go to the Pole without being able to ski? bring no spare parts for your engine-tractors? Come on, if you heard that on the news tonight you'd think of it as a very bad joke!
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Most recent customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Do your own research
This was my first foray into Antarctic exploration and I was impressed upon my first reading of it. It prompted me to read more on the subject and I've since read Scott's journals... Read more
Published on June 5 2008 by Mr. James Elder
5.0 out of 5 stars Amundsen x Scott
Between December 1911 and January 1912, two expeditions reached the South Pole, the last unexplored place on the surface of the planet. Read more
Published on Dec 10 2003 by J R Zullo
5.0 out of 5 stars No hero-worship
In the winter of 1911-12, a British naval expedition under the command of Robert Falcon Scott set out to reach the South Pole, but were beaten to it by 5 Norwegians and their... Read more
Published on Aug. 31 2003 by felicitaz
4.0 out of 5 stars Riveting but blatantly biased
"The Last Place on Earth" (formerly published as "Scott and Amundsen") is Roland Huntford's version of what he calls "the last great voyage of terrestrial discovery" -- the race to... Read more
Published on March 9 2003
3.0 out of 5 stars May not incorporate the latest theories about Scott
The 2000 PBS series that featured Scott, "Beyond the Grave", pointed out that Scott was hampered by unusually cold weather, and the plodding nature of his team (which did... Read more
Published on Jan. 16 2003 by A_2007_reader
5.0 out of 5 stars first rate adventure and history
There are few books as satisfying as this one, both in the inherent interest of the story and in the literary execution in all its enthralling detail. Read more
Published on Dec 6 2002 by Robert J. Crawford
4.0 out of 5 stars Great historical account for the hard core polar enthusiast
This book is an in-depth account into the story of the race to the south pole. Other reviews already covered possible biased and perspectives by the author in this book, so I... Read more
Published on Sept. 17 2002 by T. Schmitt
5.0 out of 5 stars A Groundbreaking Book
"The Last Place On Earth" is a book that I read some time ago, and is a volume I would not willing part with. Read more
Published on April 11 2002 by David A. Wend
4.0 out of 5 stars The Daddy of All Recent Polar Histories
Roland Huntford's The Last Place on Earth (Scott and Amundsen's Race to the South Pole), re-published as part of the Modern Library Exploration Series after its original... Read more
Published on April 10 2002 by Ricky Hunter
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