To the Edges of the Earth by Edward J. Larson
HarperCollins Publishers: 3/13/18
eBook review copy: 352 pages
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
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
My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins Publishers.