Wednesday, March 14, 2018

To the Edges of the Earth

To the Edges of the Earth by Edward J. Larson
HarperCollins Publishers: 3/13/18
eBook review copy: 352 pages
ISBN-143: 9780062564474

To the Edges of the Earth: 1909, the Race for the Three Poles, and the Climax of the Age of Exploration by Edward J. Larson is an examination of the most adventurous year of all time.

1909 can be said to be the climactic year in the modern age of adventure-based exploration. The three poles to be conquered in 1909 were the North Pole, the South Pole, and the so-called Pole of Altitude in the Himalayas. (The South pole was sometimes divided into the geographic south and magnetic south poles.) The expeditions would face extraordinary difficulties, extremely harsh conditions, tremendous hardship, and death to claim the fame of being the first to plant their flags on these poles.

At the end of the year the explorers were celebrities. Americans Robert Peary and Matthew Henson were hailed as the discovers of the North Pole. Britain’s Ernest Shackleton set a new geographic "Furthest South" record. Shackleton's teammate, Australian Douglas Mawson, reached the Magnetic South Pole. "Italy’s Duke of the Abruzzi set an altitude record that would stand for a generation during his mountaineering expedition to the Himalaya's eastern Karakoram. The Duke attempted K2 and established the standard route up the most notorious mountain on the planet.

Larson points out in the preface: "This book especially benefited from my participation in the National Science Foundation’s Antarctic Artists and Writers Program, which allowed me to go where the Antarctic explorers went, camp where they camped, and climb where they climbed. Always traveling with others, and frequently in the company of experts, through this program I saw much of what Shackleton, Mawson, and the other early visitors to the Ross Sea region saw, from the East Antarctic Ice Sheet and Ross Ice Shelf to the South Pole and summit of Mount Erebus. Extended stays at Shackleton’s Cape Royds and near Scott’s Hut Point and Cape Evans, where the explorers’ primitive winter quarters remain intact down to their unused crates of hardtack biscuits and long-frozen meat in the larder, gave insight into how the parties lived beyond what I could hope to glean from archival research."

The finished book contains notes, an index, photos, and maps. While I thought Larson did an admirable job following the three expeditions over the course of the book, my reading experience would have been greatly enhanced by the inclusion of photos and maps, which those who get the pleasure of reading the published editions will no doubt appreciate immensely.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins Publishers.

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