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




The Coldest March: Scott's Fatal Antarctic Expedition

by Susan Solomon

Yale University Press
ISBN: 0 300 08967 8
Price: £19.95/$29.95

Yet another book on Scott's last expedition? What more can be said about it? Whilst facts remain facts, this book certainly differs in its approach.

The author, Susan Solomon, is a scientist who has worked in Antarctica and through her personal experience brings to us a refreshingly new aspect to examining these historical events.

This book differs from others on the same subject by using the interesting perspective of meteorological data as the basis for her investigations. By using modern technology she seeks to redress the balance of Scott's reputation. Additionally she brings to the fore the remarkable endeavours of other members of the expedition, so often overshadowed by the controversy surrounding their leader.

One might be forgiven for expecting this to be a dry, scientific account, for the book jacket is staid in its design, despite the use of a Ponting print. However, the book is captivating from the first page. The author introduces us to Scott's hut in the present and to Antarctica itself, which leads us to the main text where factual detail is supported with expertly selected quotations. This forms the pattern for each chapter that follows.

The present-day narrative is so evocative that one can almost sense being there. This comes not only from Ms Solomon's experience of living in Antarctica, but also from her sensitive writing style. She contrasts today's experience with that of Scott's, and in this way gives us an understanding of how mistakes can be made, something that is missing from other texts. She brings us closer to understanding the physical aspect of working in Antarctica, such as the terror of losing one's sense of orientation in a blizzard, how easy it is to overlook the onset of dehydration, and the physical effects of different degrees of cold.

The book examines all aspects of the fateful expedition from its conception, the purchase of supplies and animals, the harrowing experiences of its subsidiary expeditions to the final tragic outcome. In addition to meteorological evidence, the author draws upon other sciences to learn how they too contributed to the circumstances of Scott's failure. One surprising fact is that the weather station named Bowers, situated near the top of the Beardmore glacier, proved too challenging to operate even using modern equipment.

The text is supported by very clear maps, a charming selection of photographs and some graphs (about the only scientific material in the book and simply explained in the text). Interestingly there is not a single photograph of Amundsen, though the text gives ample reference to him. An illustration of the different clothing his team wore would have been useful at least.

As one might expect, this is a dignified and factual account, particularly well researched, with a very human approach. No matter how many books one has read on the subject, the distinctive character that sets this book apart will provide a pleasurable and informative read.

Review by S.G. Servian



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