Recommended Reading from 2007

 

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'Don't go looking for Antarctica without this book.' - Susan Solomon

 

 

 

Arctic Clothing

Edited by J.C.H. King, B. Pauksztat and R. Storrie
The British Museum Press
ISBN: 0 7141 2568 7
Price: £25.00

I did not expect to be moved by this book. I had assumed it would be an academic approach to examining the techniques and design of clothing produced by ancient cultures, with a view to the practicability of the garments. However, I found an unexpected depth of feeling in this book which gives it a special kind worth.

This is the result of the 'Arctic Clothing of North America - Alaska, Canada, Greenland' conference held at the British Museum in 2001 (hence Siberian and Sami cultures are not included). The papers presented at the conference are reproduced here as individual chapters, fully supported by excellent photographs, the majority in colour, and some descriptive line drawings.

The result is a rich and often personal account from family members who have graciously allowed us into their private worlds: Jana Harcharek, who was guided on an emotional journey by her grandmother; Chuna McIntyre, who describes the masterpiece that his grandmother sewed for him; Dixie Masak Dayo, whose self-sewn story-dress helped her deal with 'assimilation syndrome'. The poor man's fish-skin raincoat and the myriad use of grasses made me realise that cultures with in-born skills such as these are more likely to survive in a world disaster than any technologically sophisticated culture of the Western world.

I hope that this book is made available to the Arctic communities so that the younger generations may realise how great their heritage is, encouraging them to learn from their elders and so preserve something more valuable than anything money can buy. The message is clear: Don't let this part of your culture die - you can be justly proud! Long may such skills and artistry survive.

 

Antarctic Map

OK, OK, this is a map and not a book, I know, but it's every bit as important as any history or guide book. This map has been produced exclusively for the Antarctic Heritage Trust. No traveller to the Antarctic Peninsula would want to be without it. It is double-sided, measuring 80 x 90 cm, with one side showing the Northern Peninsula stretching from Elephant Island in the NE to Marguerite Bay in the SW at 1:1 mm scale. On the other side is a new Scotia Sea map showing Southern Tierra Del Fuego, Falkland Islands, South Sandwich Islands, South Georgia and the norther part of the Antarctic Peninsula at 1:4 mm scale - ideal for plotting your ship's voyage! Both maps show full topography and bathymetry. You can obtain the map when visiting Port Lockroy or by sending a cheque for £15.00 (incl. p&p) to UK AHT, Kingcoed farm, Usk, NP15 1DS (and please mention this website when ordering, thank you).

 

Quest for a Phantom Strait

Whilst we're at it, no traveller to the Antarctic Peninsula should go without a copy of Quest for a Phantom Strait either!

David Yelverton wrote this specifically for today's traveller, as he felt strongly that all visitors should know something of the human history of that region. The book looks at three expeditions that ventured into the then unknown territory at the time that Captain Scott made his expedition to the South Pole, and the experiences of the expeditions' members were no less harrowing.

Order through bookshops quoting ISBN 978-0-9548003-0-7 or e-mail the publisher: polar.publishing@lineone.net

 

 

Robert Falcon Scott Journals: Captain Scott's Last Expedition

Introduced and edited by Max Jones
Oxford University Press
ISBN: 0199297525 / 9780100297528
Price: £8.99 paperback

The world-renown heroic but fatal expedition by Captain Scott and his party to reach the South Pole in 1912 never ceases to fascinate. Scott's own journals were first published in 1913, followed by a 'cheap' edition in 1923 which sold right through to 1978. Oxford University Press has reissued it in paperback as part of their World Classics series that is 'recognized for its fine scholarship and reliability in texts that span world literature … Each edition includes perceptive commentary and essential background information to meet the changing needs of readers.' This edition certainly lives up to that claim, with Max Jones's masterful editing and illuminating introduction. It also includes a list of changes made to Scott's original text, published here for the first time.

 

Northabout: Sailing the North East and North West Passages

by Jarlath Cunnane
The Collins Press
ISBN: 1905172230 / 9781905172238
Price: €27.95

There was something immediately refreshing about this book. Perhaps because it's not the usual macho look-how-I've-suffered-to-achieve-this type of narrative that we are so used to these days. Perhaps because the passion for pure adventure by these men pervade the book from the first page to the last. Perhaps because it is about a group of friends rather than a seriously recruited expedition chosen for skills above cohesive personalities.

This is the story of an all-Irish crew setting out to sail the Northwest Passage. From a casual meeting in a pub and a friend singing 'The Ballad of Lord Franklin', the reader is swept along the rolling waves of enthusiasm as the team is formed and the boat so lovingly built. After achieving their first goal, they were further inspired to tackle the more difficult Northeast Passage, from the Bearing Straits via Siberia and on to Norway.

The group set out as mates and returned as mates. There were real challenges but no heroics; no useless 'firsts' as their goal. As it turned out, they did achieve a first, but this was mentioned only in passing at the end of the book. As one might expect of the Irish, music played a great part in their own lives and proved useful for breaking down barriers when meeting the locals. The camaraderie and open-mindedness when encountering minority cultures should be an inspiration to us all.

My fear that the text might be too nautical was unfounded. It is an easy and pleasurable read, with some great photos. An interest in sailing or the Arctic is not necessary for this book, anyone will be able to enjoy it.

 

Ending in Ice: The Revolutionary Idea and Tragic Expedition of Alfred Wegener

by Roger M. McCoy
Oxford University Press
ISBN: 9780195188578
Price: £17.99

Some might ask, who is Alfred Wegener? He is the man who 'discovered' continental drift. He also conducted four scientific expeditions to the then-uncharted Greenland icecap in order to gather data about climate variations. It was there that he died, in 1930 at the age of 50, whilst trying to rescue starving team members.

For me the core interest of the book was the events surrounding Wegener's theory of continental drift - what we now refer to as 'plate tectonics'. His ideas were revolutionary and he had difficulty in getting his theory accepted or even considered because he was a meteorologist and not a geologist. Furthermore, he was unable to support his hypothesis with sound evidence. Surprisingly, it was not until the mid-1960s that his theory was finally accepted.

Wegener's first experience of Greenland was with the 1906-08 Danmark expedition, conducting coastal mapping surveys. His second was in 1912-13, again with a Danish expedition, which became the first party to overwinter in the interior. The third was to measure ice thickness during summer 1929, followed by the fourth and final German-funded expedition a year later to establish the Eismitte research base in the centre of the icecap. They were the first to use motorised sledges, which were to play a part in their downfall. Incredibly, one of the books taken along was Scott's journals, which understandably did not help ease the men's anxiety when they came into difficulties. The account of Wegener's expedition is no less tense and courageous, also ending in heart-wrenching tragedy. However, scientifically the expedition was a success, and the data collected is still used for comparison today.

This is a revealing and expertly written book that deserves a wide audience, spoiled only by the rather flat reproduction of the photographs.

 

Tom Crean - An Illustrated Life

by Michael Smith
The Collins Press
ISBN: 1905172184 / 9781905172184
Price: €30.00

Tom Crean was the Irish hero of Antarctic exploration, yet he lived his life in obscurity. Only on publication of Michael Smith's An Unsung Hero in 2000 did he come to the notice of the world at large. A Kerry man, Tom played an outstanding role in the expeditions of Shackleton and Captain Scott. The extraordinary highlights of his adventures in the ice were captured in some exceptional photographs taken under the most difficult conditions; many of the images in the book were taken by Frank Hurley and Herert Ponting. Together with some photographs published here for the first time, they present a photographic record of a truly astonishing man: of his early life, his legendary feats of survival and exploration, and his peaceful retirement in Kerry. The Irish are justly proud of their hero, and this wonderful photo documentary of Tom Crean's life will keep you transfixed for hours.

All reviews by S. G. Servian

 

 

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