5.0 out of 5 stars Amundsen isn't without faults either
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...
Published on Feb. 24 2011 by Marc Ranger
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3.0 out of 5 stars Huntford's book is Revisionist and Biased
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...
Published on June 20 2001 by A. DiSanto
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Huntford's book is Revisionist and Biased,
This review is from: The Last Place on Earth (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.
5.0 out of 5 stars Amundsen isn't without faults either,
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This review is from: The Last Place on Earth (Paperback)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.
5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome chronicle of Victorian Era Polar exploration..,
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This review is from: The Last Place on Earth (Paperback)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.
5.0 out of 5 stars Should be a classic.,
By A Customer
This review is from: The Last Place on Earth (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.
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb. (Don't feel offended if you're english),
This review is from: The Last Place on Earth (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)
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! Scott was a dilettante, and he paid the bitter price.
Scott not even learned form previous experience. At least Shackleton did. The Endurance expedition was a case of bad luck despite good preparation. Terra Nova was a chapuza. Bad luck? Give me a break!
Scott deserves respect, he sure does, but Amundsen deserves not only that, much more than that, he accomplished what many others (not only Scott) were unable to achieve, and not only in the Antartic, also in the Artic. Face reality.
The book is excellent from ALL points of view (good reading too). Only I wish it included more photos and more detailed maps (although it does include enough of both).
Don't be silly, don't waste your time on other books if you want to know about Amundsen and/or Scott.
5.0 out of 5 stars Amundsen x Scott,
This review is from: The Last Place on Earth (Paperback)Between December 1911 and January 1912, two expeditions reached the South Pole, the last unexplored place on the surface of the planet. Amundsen, the competent norwegian leader, reached the pole and came back to tell his story; Scott, the controversial british leader, reached the pole but could not come back, and died in the middle of the frozen continent. Amundsen's feat is one of the greatest and cleanest of all human history; Scott's tragic outcome became matter of legend.
Human nature and humanity's predilection for heroic (even if useless) accomplishments made Scott widely known, and made Amundsen a bitter old man unitl his death (surprise!: Amundsen's death, years after he reached the pole, was also kind of heroic and widely useless). When Huntford wrote this book (back in the seventies, if I'm not mistaken), Scott was the hero and Amundsen was "that norseman that went to the Pole".
Huntford's is one of the first books to elevate Amundsen to his real and deserved status. Through almost 30 chapters and more than 600 pages, Huntford compares Amundsen and Scott, not only their polar expeditions, but also their background lives in respective countries, past influences, exploration techniques, people they were related to, and much more. From the beginning, using a compelling writing style (academic but never boring or slow) Huntford paints Scott like a buffoon, a pitiable character driven by dreams of glory and power. Maybe Scott was not as bad as Huntford thinks, and maybe Amundsen was not as godlike as well; the reader has to absorb the huge amount of information about the expeditions contained in this book, and decide for himself if he completely believes the biographical information about Scott and Amundsen. Even so, this book is not for readers with a small capacity and willingness for changing his thoughts about Amundsen and Scott. And, no doubt, Scott's admirers will never go past page 100.
This book could be a "Grade:10" if there were photographs of the expeditions included.
To complement Huntford's book I would suggest Cherry-Garrard's "The worst journey in the world", a great account on Scott's side of the exploration. I said "complement" and not "oppose". If you read both books, you'll know what I mean.
5.0 out of 5 stars No hero-worship,
This review is from: The Last Place on Earth (Paperback)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 dogs.
Roland Huntford's account of this neck-and-neck race through the Antarctic stands out from others in that it gives a complete picture of both British and Norwegian teams, the men leading them, the men following, and the political, nationalistic, scientific, & emotional motives driving both expeditions. This has resulted in a controversial book, because the parallel accounts naturally lead to comparisons, as Huntford explores the question of why the Norwegians succeeded while the British were hampered with delays, shortages, and finally, disaster. He lays the blame at Scott's door, citing evidence of faulty planning & leadership, and comparing it to that of the more experienced Roald Amundsen.
This could be dry stuff for reading, but it isn't. I can open any part of this book and be intstantly drawn into Huntford's narrative--his energetic character sketches, "gentlemen's disagreements", snatches of diaries and letters, diets of the rival camps, scientifically detailed descriptions of the terrain, and all the physical discomfort that comes with sledging for hours in winds of -30 degrees C. It is a scientific rather than heroic account, tracking the teams over glaciers and through nightmarish mazes of crevasses to the accompaniment of sextant and altitude readings.
Scott loyalists will not like this book, as Huntford ruthlessly points up the errors in judgement that led to the death of Scott's party 11 miles short of the main food depot, and shows little reverence for this long-revered British hero. One certainly detects an anti-Scott bias, and in some places I thought Huntford's interpretations of Scott's actions may not have been fair. However, the real damage lies in Scott's own words: "...In future food must be worked so that we do not run so short if the weather fails us. We mustn't get into a hole like this again..."
Told from several viewpoints on both sides, this is so far the most three-dimensional history of the race to the South Pole I've encountered, and the most arresting.
4.0 out of 5 stars Riveting but blatantly biased,
By A Customer
This review is from: The Last Place on Earth (Paperback)"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 be the first person to reach the South Pole in the early 20th century. Huntford weaves a gripping tale of how Roald Amundsen and Robert Scott planned their separate expeditions, laid in supplies, navigated and finally reached the holy grail of 90° South. Amundsen beat Scott to the Pole by a month and returned home to a hero's welcome. Scott and his team, on the other hand, died on the way back from the Pole, and their bodies were discovered months later. It's quite a tale, and Huntford tells it in such a way as to keep the reader engrossed and riveted. Unfortunately, he cannot keep his admiration for Amundsen or his contempt for Scott concealed or even low-key.
In every page, Amundsen is presented as a polar genius, who soaked up knowledge and used it to guarantee (as much as possible) a safe journey to the Pole and back. He develops his own rations and spends endless time fine-tuning his equipment. He uses a pattern of Eskimo clothing to keep warm and dry. He depends on seal meat to ward off scurvy, and brings along far more food and fuel than he actually needs. Generally, he knows exactly what he's doing.
In stark contrast, Scott is depicted as a world-class buffoon, who acheived his station in life through connections rather than talent. Every action he takes is shot through with disaster, from the way he designed his sledges to the rations he took. And let's not even talk about his attempt at going to the Pole with ponies instead of sledge dogs. According to Huntford, he can't do anything right, and he pays for it with his life and the lives of the four men he took to the Pole with him. (His depiction of Scott resulted in Scott's son angrily and publicly disowning the book, once he saw what the author had done to his father's reputation.)
"The Last Place on Earth" is a story of adventure and foolhardiness, life and death in the cold, snowy wastes of Antarctica. The reader, however, is urged to keep the author's bias in mind.
5.0 out of 5 stars first rate adventure and history,
This review is from: The Last Place on Earth (Paperback)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. A few truly excellent books come to mind, such as Rhodes' Making of the Atomic Bomb or Halberstam's Best and the Brightest. This book is indisputably of that caliber and every page exudes the love of the author for its subject.
Huntford tells the story of the conquest of the S Pole as a race between Robert Falcon Scott and Roald Amundsen just prior to the outbreak of the First World War. On innumerable levels, the book is utterly fascinating: as pure adventure, as a contrast of extraordinary personalities, and (my purpose in reading it) as a management challenge. It also has plenty on the historical context, set against the beginning of the decline of the British Empire at the same time that a Norwegian nationalism was being forged. It was also the last great exploration that was done largely without higher technological vehicles such as airplanes and land rovers.
On the one hand, there is Scott, the quintessential bureaucrat of the British Navy: he is most comfortable in a huge hierarchy that lends him indisputable authority and is driven by a smoldering ambition and hopes to advance himself via the discovery of the S Pole. He is exceedingly rigid, arrogant yet painfully insecure, and pathetically unsuited to command. His failure to learn, in part because he is more comfortable at a desk with books than in observing real life, eventually leads to the ultimate failure. Nonetheless, he embodied a certain British romantic ideal, which he consciously cultivated: the heroic explorer who takes great risks for the sake of discovery and national glory. With his remarkable physical stamina and literary gifts, he created a legend for himself that his ambitious widow spent a lifetime advancing.
On the other hand, there is a consummate professional explorer, Amundsen, who decided at age 15 that he would master Arctic travel and live the life of a discover. Amundsen systematically learned how Eskimos lived, from their primitive technology (perfectly adapted to the polar climate) to their languages, and apprenticed to the greatest arctic explorer of the age (Nansen). He was also a shrewd and natural leader, able to lead a "happy ship" without rigid hierarchy of command. It is a case study in highly capable management of a monomaniac, and as we should all know, he succeeds (I give nothing away here). This book explains why in wonderful detail.
The reader really comes to feel that he knows these men by the end of the book. At every step, we witness a subtle psychology emerge. Genius though he might have been, Amundsen made plenty of mistakes and lived a lonely and unhappy life, much like a general who spends years, or even decades, planning a decisive victory that is decided in only a few hours of combat and then feels hollow. Scott, for all his disorganization and petty egotism, was better with the media and more in sych with the expectations of his times, which explains why his story of a noble failure eclipsed that of Amundsen for so long.
Warmly recommended. This is a great gift book and a truly splendid read. If you are considering getting it, you won't be disappointed.
4.0 out of 5 stars Great historical account for the hard core polar enthusiast,
This review is from: The Last Place on Earth (Paperback)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 won't cover the same ground with my vote.
My biggest observation of this book is that it is a complete historic account of the race. In 500+ pages, the author delves into complete detail about the lives and backgrounds of both men and their biographies and circumstances. As such, I wouldn't recommend this book for someone who just wants to read this story to be entertaintained on a fansinating subject. For a lighter, and less ponderous read on the same topic, I would recommend "A First Rate Tragedy" instead. However, for those who want to know the complete story in all its glory details, those who are armchair polor enthusiasts, and those who want to get into the minds of both men and understand their core characters, then you won't be disappointed by this book.
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The Last Place on Earth by Roland Huntford (Paperback - Sept. 7 1999)
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