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The Last Place on Earth Paperback – Sep 7 1999
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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
"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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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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!Read more ›
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
Huntford's research into the contrasting quests for the South Pole in 1911 is based upon multiple diaries and private letters. Read morePublished on Feb. 21 2011 by Canuck Teach
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 morePublished on June 5 2008 by Mr. James Elder
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... Read morePublished on Feb. 18 2004
"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 morePublished on March 9 2003
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 morePublished on Jan. 16 2003 by A_2007_reader
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 morePublished on Dec 6 2002 by Robert J. Crawford
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 morePublished on Sept. 17 2002 by T. Schmitt
"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 morePublished on April 11 2002 by David A. Wend
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