The Last Place on Earth: Scott and Amundsen's Race to the South Pole, Revised and Updated (Modern Library Exploration) Info

Check out Readers reviews and rating for books about American history, ancient history, military history. You can easily download The Last Place on Earth: Scott and Amundsen's Race to the South Pole, Revised and Updated (Modern Library Exploration) by # author# from the best rated book stores online. Read&Download The Last Place on Earth: Scott and Amundsen's Race to the South Pole, Revised and Updated (Modern Library Exploration) by Roland Huntford,Paul Theroux Online


At the beginning of the twentieth century, the South Pole was
the most coveted prize in the fiercely nationalistic modern age of
exploration. In the brilliant dual biography, the award-winning writer
Roland Huntford re-examines every detail of the great race to the South
Pole between Britain's Robert Scott and Norway's Roald Amundsen. Scott,
who dies 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.

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Reviews for The Last Place on Earth: Scott and Amundsen's Race to the South Pole, Revised and Updated (Modern Library Exploration):

3

August 25, 2000

Take with a pinch of salt
Huntsford's book may be impressive in terms of the amount of material he has assembled, but, as other reviewers have pointed out, there is such an obvious anti-Scott bias that it is sometimes hard to take his analysis at face value. It left me wondering what the motives for his conclusions were: surely the object of historical biography is (as far as possible) a dispassionate presentation of the facts. Huntsford certainly cannot be accused of that. Huntford seems to start from the position that Scott was an incomptent fool, and assembles the evidence to support that view. There can be no doubt that Scott was a flawed leader, but the aims of his expedition were very different from those of Amundsen and so direct comparison of the two expeditions will always be problematic. Scott's expedition was ostensibly scientific; Amundsen wanted purely to reach the south Pole first (after initially claiming to be heading for the Arctic - he waited until Scott was far South before announcing his real intention). Further, the claims of some of your reviewers that Scott refused to use dogs and skis is plain wrong.
Ultimately Huntsford's account is a valuable contribution to the literature surrounding these two contrasting voyages to the Antarctic, but is too single-minded in its pursuit of Scott's reputation. If readers want to know why Scott's men would largely follow him unquestioningly to the ends of the Earth, read Apsley Cherry-Garrard's wonderfully written and moving account of his own travails on Scott's expedition, The Worst Journey In The World. If I had to choose whose opinion to take most seriously regarding Scott - that of Huntsford, or that of a man who spent two years in the Antarctic with Scott, through thick and mostly thin, I have to take Cherry-Garrard's. Read both and make up your own mind.
4

Dec 13, 2016

In the spirit of Manny I think it's important to immediately point out some parallels with Knausgard. Is there anything more heroically pointless and more boring than polar exploration? I don't mean for science but just rushing to the pole to say you've stood there. For Norwegians to get the world's attention, they have to do something huge and monstrous. Something spectacular that others have only dreamed of or dismissed as ludicrous. One can see Knausgard (that face! the intensity! those crags In the spirit of Manny I think it's important to immediately point out some parallels with Knausgard. Is there anything more heroically pointless and more boring than polar exploration? I don't mean for science but just rushing to the pole to say you've stood there. For Norwegians to get the world's attention, they have to do something huge and monstrous. Something spectacular that others have only dreamed of or dismissed as ludicrous. One can see Knausgard (that face! the intensity! those crags and ridges!) as a sort of Nansen of the page, an Amundsen of the pen, fighting his way to his own South Pole (so to speak) with demoniac fervour and holding the results to the world's nose in triumph.

Sharp corrective here to the Scott I remember from many a school assembly. The noble hero of the Antarctic. As depicted here (an utter hatchet job but a well-documented one) Scott led his men to death because he was arrogant, ignorant and wholly unprepared. Thinking British pep and vim and upper lip were all that's needed. Not bothering to learn to use skis or dogs. Insisting on man-hauling (agonising, inefficient) and ponies (utterly useless on snow). Not planning his depots. Not leaving any margin of error. Determined on ludicrous heroism for its own sake. Deciding at the last minute to take 5 men instead of the planned 4 to the pole, inevitably leaving food and fuel short. Amundsen on the other hand having spent decades learning snowcraft and icecraft, having the humility and good sense to learn from the Esquimaux and the Inuit, adopting their diet, their clothing, their techniques and equipment. Planning depots meticulously. Building in a huge margin of safety. His lean and hardened team of experts (including, in Bjaaland a world-champion cross-country skier) a brutal contrast to Scott's glory-seeking misfits, incompetents and tyros. As the Times of London was to sneer, “professionals”. For Scott, the author puts it biblically: TEKEL; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting. Scott, slogging through the snow while Fridtjof Nansen casually screwed his (Scott's) wife in a Berlin hotel.

As the author brutally has it, Scott was adopted as a hero in failure and death – a hero for a nation of losers, a necessary hero for a dying empire, a shining example of pointless self-sacrifice for the great war to come. A fascinating book. Much here not touched upon. Recommended.
...more
5

September 2, 2013

Best book on management ever written
OK, so this LOOKS like a book on polar exploration, and there certainly is a lot to recommend it on that front, but ultimately it's the story of two different management styles. In a past company, we'd have an annual offsite meeting and each year a different one of us was supposed to give a book related to our business to the others. We got the usual stuff like Good To Great or Crossing the Chasm, books written by people who sit in academic offices and try to figure out what makes groups of individuals successful.

But you couldn't ask for two more diametrically opposed approaches to the business of making it to the South Pole than Scott and Amundsen. Amundsen prepares relentlessly: prior to the South Pole attempt he's been in the Canadian Arctic studying the way the Inuit are able to survive. He learns how they make their clothing to stay warm, how they make igloos, how they use their dogs. He knows that dogs work best in high output, short duration stretches, and he learns to ski along side the sleds at the pace the dogs want to go. He spends a year on the Belgica locked in the ice through the first Antarctic night experienced by Europeans, and he knows about scurvy and the emotional toll that the dark takes. He lives closely with his men, knows them well, and does everything he can to foster camaraderie within the group. When it doesn't work out, he's willing to cut out those who don't fit from making the journey. Even the way he measures out the area around the South Pole to be certain he actually got there shows how intent he is on leaving nothing to chance.

Scott on the other hand has one other piece of high latitude work under his belt from the first British expedition to the Ross Sea area in which he'd made a sprint towards the South Pole with Shackleton and showed no compassion for the latter's sickness, sending him home disgraced afterwards. His general attitude was that as a member of the British naval officer corps, he had what it took inside him and "it" would somehow see him through. He shows up at his camp with four different transport means, none of which he had done extensive training with: barely tested mechanized sledges, skis, dogs, and ponies. He discounts the dogs because they don't work well when used at a pace equal to what a man can achieve hauling a sled by himself. He doesn't make any training program for his men to learn to ski - some of them are motivated to fool around with the skis, but most do nothing. He holds himself aloof from his men and although some of them hold him in high regard, others feel dismissed. As they begin to approach the pole, Scott refuses to recognize the reality that he is too late and should turn back short of his objective to have a chance of survival.

And in the end the results are no surprise - Amundsen breezes to the pole and back like he's on a modern day eco-tour, and Scott and the men who came with him all perish.

Huntford's book is a gripping story that still has time for details that make the reader understand how vastly different it is to go to the South Pole than the North Pole. You can feel the tension of crossing fractured sections of glacial ice where any step could plunge through the snow and send you hundreds of feet to an icy death in a chasm. There's the frustration of trying to get your sledge to cross the high plateau leading to the pole when it's nearly dead flat but carved with sastrugi that makes it a maze of difficult-to-cross ruts. And the desperation of hoping to find the next cache of supplies and wondering if your last bearings were really accurate. All this comes home vividly in this superb book. I've read a couple dozen books on Arctic and Antarctic exploration, and to me this is the best.
5

Apr 04, 2008

Reading this book ignited my interest in Antarctica and literally changed my life. I took up mountaineering, winter camping, and cross country skiing because of this book.
On Dec. 24, 2004 I stood at the South Pole after a ski journey of 73 miles (a bit more than the Last Degree of latitude).
1

February 17, 2007

Read the notes at the end of the book!
There are simply too many errors in this book to state here. I can only suggest that the reader look at the notes at the end of the book. Huntford derives almost all of his negative comments from two or three people on Scott's expeditions. Why are so few of the comments collected from hundreds of men who loved and supported Scott. I'd hate to have my life judged before the world by the few people I've pissed off out of the many I've known. And just a note in passing---the Markham diary or jornal he keeps referring to? It's not a diary or journal; it is a collection of notes made by a very old Markham years after he encountered Scott on the street (prior to appointing Scott as leader on the first expedition).

Scott certainly made some serious judgement errors and prevaricated occassionally, but Huntford lies on almost every page of his book by omission and deception.

I have no complaints about his description of Amundsen; Amundsen was the better of the two explorers. In fact, Amundson was arguably the greatest of all polar explorers in the heroc age. Some of the best polar explorers appear almost amateurish by comparison.
2

January 5, 2000

Don't Blindly Trust Authors with Axes to Grind
This book, while full of interesting comparisons between Scott and Amundsen, is written from such a one-sided perspective that anyone unwilling wholly to accept Huntford's basic thesis--that Scott (and, by extension, Britain) had no redeeming graces, whereas Amundsen (and, by extension, all of Scandinavia) had no flaws worth noting--will find it maddening to read. There are plenty of legitimate grounds on which to criticize Scott and praise Amundsen; however, Huntford inexplicably is constrained to rip into Scott every time he mentions the man. (He even strongly implies that Scott couldn't have been much of a man, alleging both that Scott's benefactor Clements Markham was homosexual and that Scott's wife had an extramarital affair with Amundsen's mentor Nansen.)
All of this smells of some agenda besides merely correcting common wisdom about Scott's purported heroism. In short, Huntford is like a literary Oliver Stone, inasmuch as he interprets the historical record entirely in light of his predetermined conclusions.
One thing is highly instructive with regard to Huntford's intentions: his treatment of Frederick Cook, Amundsen's good friend. Huntford implies that Cook, a noted charlatan and abject liar, actually did reach the North Pole in 1908 ahead of Peary. In doing so, he not only ignores Cook's demonstrably false claim of a 1906 first ascent of Denali--which, any thinking person would conclude, makes his north-pole claims that much more implausible--he also violates his own "principle" of not accepting romantic notions as fact.
Finally, Huntford fails to note that time has vindicated at least some of Scott's methods (e.g., man-hauling). Amundsen may have taken the most prudent path in capturing the prize at that time, but there's a lot to be said for the fact that Scott did it the hard way--and came very close to succeeding.
3

June 20, 2001

Huntford's book is Revisionist and Biased
There are two important facts to remember about The Last Place on Earth. The first is that its author, Roland Huntford, comes to it with the clear agenda of debunking Scott and lionizing Amundsen. The second is that he has the benefit of more than fifty years of historical hindsight, which makes it easy for him to criticize Scott for apparent incompetence. He's also not above fabricating so-called "facts" if doing so helps him further his cause of tearing down the Scott legend (I'm thinking of his more or less unfounded allegations that Kathleen Scott had an affair with Nansen). The truth regarding Scott and Amundsen and their respective expeditions is naturally somewhat more complicated. The Last Place on Earth is not a bad book. It's not necessarily even bad history. But it is revisionist, and heavily skewed, written by a man with a clear agenda. If you want a more fair, balanced, and compassionate view, read Diana Preston's A First Rate Tragedy. Read the Scott chapters of Francis Spofford's I May Be Some Time. And read Scott's and Amundsen's own published records of the events. Because let's face it: nobody knows what really happened better than the men to whom it actually happened. And they left their own perfectly adequate accounts.
5

Feb 13, 2013

What an incredible book. I was blown away with how much I liked it. It was incredibly well-researched and well presented historical drama. The author had very obviously done his homework and knew the topic well. It was a long read for me, and took quite a while to get through. It's not a fast-paced thriller novel, so there were parts when I would sit down to read it and fall asleep after only a few pages (though that may just mean I'm usually a busy and tired guy). The first 3/4 of the book was What an incredible book. I was blown away with how much I liked it. It was incredibly well-researched and well presented historical drama. The author had very obviously done his homework and knew the topic well. It was a long read for me, and took quite a while to get through. It's not a fast-paced thriller novel, so there were parts when I would sit down to read it and fall asleep after only a few pages (though that may just mean I'm usually a busy and tired guy). The first 3/4 of the book was like that for me, but the final 1/4 of the book, the part that dealt with the actual journey of these two men to the south pole, I read in just a few days because I liked it so much. I pulled a couple very late nights towards the end of the book.

The author presented this history not pretending to hide his own biases. He was very obviously impressed with Amundsen's leadership style, his preparation and technical knowledge. He quite obviously loathed Scott's leadership style and his inept ability at polar exploration. To be fair though, he has the data to back up his conclusion, and I found it difficult to not side with the author in admiring Amundsen and his preparation, leadership, and optimism.

I will admit that I found the account of Scott and his 4 companion's deaths one of the more sad deaths I have ever read. Notwithstanding the evidence that Scott's ignorance brought their deaths upon them and that it could have been prevented with a bit of foresight, I felt an amazing sadness for those men. The author describes well, their state of mind as they raced against odds to safety, as they slowly began to realize that they were in a race for their very lives. When they finally realized their own deaths were imminent and that no help was forthcoming, they hunkered down in a tent and for nine days burned through their remaining fuel and food while furiously writing letters and journal entries. I can't even imagine what must have gone through their minds.

It was an amazing book, and I enjoyed it. I'm also glad I'm done, as finishing it was for me a lengthy journey in and of itself! ...more
1

March 7, 2012

Rewritng history
This fascinating, compelling and very convincing book is unfortunately a completely inaccurate picture of Scott. By reading the diaries of the original expedition members and 'Captain Scott' by R.Fiennes you will recieve a much more balanced account of what really happened on Scott's last expedition. Fiennes rips to shreds all of the spurious claims in this book with hard, concrete facts supported by written evidence from all concerned. The myth of Scott ignoring dogs as a mode of transport, endangering his men, being an incompetent naval officer, foolishly choosing five not four team members for the pole push etc. etc. are all shown to be figments of Huntford's imagination. This book is a great read but also a great wrong. Indeed, Peter Scott took Huntford to court for misuse and misrepresentation of original material. Scott won the case.
3

January 16, 2003

May not incorporate the latest theories about Scott
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 not use dogs). The unusually cold weather created an anomaly where the ice would not melt under the sled runners, which created friction that slowed down the men fatally. But for this, Scott might have survived. Also interesting in the PBS series is speculation that the last two members of Scott's team, including his physician, stayed with Scott out of loyalty or Hippocratic Oath rather than necessity (there was no blizzard that lasted 10 days). Thus they died heroically but unnecessarily. Finally Scotts' weatherman was within 5% accurate for the average steady-state temperature conditions--and was a pioneer for Antartic weather prediction. He could not of course predict that a fatal temperature inversion would result in abnormally cold weather for a spell. I'm afraid that the book, since it was published before these facts came out, may be a bit too biased against Scott, who, nevertheless was obviously not as good as his Norwegian counterpart, since Scott apparently did not include a large enough factor of safety. Then again, that's what exploration is all about--getting close to the envelope of danger. Nothing succeeds like success.
4

Sep 23, 2012

This book is many things: the story of the race to the South Pole, a dual biography of the rivals, Englishman Captain Robert F. Scott and Norwegian Roald Amundsen, adventure and exploration of the Antarctic, and above all a tale of leadership--superb and inept.

The book, which the New York Times book review called "one of the great debunking biographies" was greeted with outrage in Britain, where Scott had achieved mythic status. Scott, who Huntford called "muddle-headed" and a "bungler" This book is many things: the story of the race to the South Pole, a dual biography of the rivals, Englishman Captain Robert F. Scott and Norwegian Roald Amundsen, adventure and exploration of the Antarctic, and above all a tale of leadership--superb and inept.

The book, which the New York Times book review called "one of the great debunking biographies" was greeted with outrage in Britain, where Scott had achieved mythic status. Scott, who Huntford called "muddle-headed" and a "bungler" embodied the spirit of "self-sacrifice." A naval officer who was the epitome of "regimented mediocrity" Scott only became a polar explorer to jump start his stalled career. Huntsman couldn't paint a more stark contrast than that between Scott and Amundsen. Amundsen didn't drift into polar exploration, it was his dream since a teen. Where Scott improvised, Amundsen carefully prepared; he sought men who would take initiative, rather than passively receive orders. Rather than embrace self-sacrifice and suffering as an ideal, Amundsen attacked the problem of polar exploration rationally and efficiently. For him, "adventure is just bad planning." He used skis and dogs; Scott used "man-hauling." It was almost comical at times to read of Scott's mistakes and utter incompetence after having read about how Amundsen led his expedition. Or it might have been, if it wasn't so tragic, such a sheer waste in every sense of the word.

Certainly the contrast between the men and their fates made for gripping reading. This is an intimidatingly long book of over 500 pages--but it read quickly. I have little to complain of Huntford. A touch of misogyny perhaps--which he ironically accused Amundsen of--yet it was the author who made disparaging remarks about women in general, including calling them "predatory." (Scott's wife he described as particularly so, both Scott and Amundsen's mother are portrayed in unflattering lights.) The dogs are depicted as much more endearing. There's a generous use of maps and pictures and the prose alone paints a terrific picture of Antarctica, and he puts in context the history of the times and the countries of the expeditions. I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in Antarctica, polar exploration--and especially the qualities needed in able leadership. ...more
1

January 27, 2012

Misinformation
Sad to see so many glowing reviews of this book. Depressing to realize how readily misinformation is accepted as fact with the reviewers thoughtlessly indulging in the spread of misinformation themselves. If you must read this book make sure you also read Ranulph Fiennes' "Captain Scott".
3

April 2, 2012

On today, April 2, 2012, the 100th anniversary of Scott's death --
-- at least I've always guessed it to be. Contrary to what everyone on both sides of this controversy say, Scott's diary did not end on March 29, 1912. His last entry, undated, was written in bigger handwriting, apparently at some later point. I picture him writing it a couple of days later, putting the diary away, and then fighting his way out of his bag ("paradoxical undressing"?) as he expired on April 2, 1912.

O.K., enough with the morbid. From a distance of 30 years one can better judge this very well-written book. It gave Scott scholarship a needed shaking up. Huntford made clear that Scott made bad, impulsive decisions, did not learn well from experience, and, as even his companions wrote, did not leave enough of a margin for error, and in all of these respects was inferior to Amundsen. But this book is unrelentingly scathing. Huntford simply cannot say anything good about Scott, at any point in his life, as to any of his endeavors. I found only one compliment -- on p. 449, he says, "Scott possessed great physical courage and phenomenal stamina" -- but this is only to introduce a criticism -- "One of his weaknesses as a leader was to expect the same powers in everyone and ignore the differences in men."

By contrast, Amundsen is presented in an almost uniformly good light. It is true that Huntford says that Amundsen's autobiography was a "bitter" and "unbalanced" work. But he glosses over his abandoning his men (a couple of whom were lucky to get back alive) after his too-early attempt on the Pole in August 1911.

Some of this imbalance is understandable, as a corrective to pro-Scott bias. And Huntford performs a service in pointing out that Oates's famous last words were likely a Scott fabrication. (Wilson, who was still keeping a diary and writing letters to Oates's mother, made no mention of them.) But he is vicious in describing Scott in his last days. At least give the man credit for writing coherent, elevating prose while debilitated by starvation, hypothermia, and frostbite.

That said, this book is gripping and hard to put down. Its account of both men's lives, despite the bias, is unsurpassed in completeness and clarity. Someone should tell Huntford that he, like Scott, is a good writer. The book gave birth to a TV mini-series which was just as well done.

The experience of Amundsen and Scott in Antarctica has been written about extensively, yet it tends to separate into pro-Scott accounts and anti-Scott accounts. To me the most balanced is Susan Solomon's from 1999. The discussion having leaned so far towards Scott for so long, and having been jolted the other way by Huntford, it is time we can reach a fair conclusion: Amundsen made good decisions, but also had good luck (beginning with not falling into a crevice while tackling the unexplored Axel Heiberg glacier). Scott, a man of conflicting impulses, made bad decisions, but also had one huge bit of bad luck -- mostly, the unusual March 1912 cold snap that Solomon has documented. If it had not been for that cold snap, Scott, Bowers and Wilson probably would have survived (though he still would have gotten to the pole after Amundsen, and would still have lost Evans and possibly Oates too).
3

November 22, 2018

For a Balanced View Also Read Cherry-Gerard and Ranulph Fiennes
This book launched me onto a 3 month reading project of other books related to the subject matter, including books about Laurence Oates and I especially enjoyed Cherry-Gerard's very comprehensive work The Worst journey in the World, and finally Captain Scott by Fiennes, which debunks much of the misinformation presented by Huntford, generally without true references. You will get a different perspective on both R.F. Scott and E. A. Wilson from these other books , and, it's helpful to get beyond Huntford's compulsively negative rendition. I gave this book five stars initially, and it is very well-written, but I have come full-circle and see it as too biased against the English Expedition personnel. I found that Fiennes book is especially good at giving the whole picture including both good and bad sides of the all of the main characters. Fiennes carefully picks apart every one of Huntford's mis-statements. This book presents a negative bias toward Captain R. F. Scott. This is not to deny that Scott make technical errors or lapses of judgement which undoubtedly contributed to the Expedition's failure, like foot wear not up to the task, and insisting on man hauling, and failure to remember from 1902-03 that paraffin (kerosene) typically had faulty valves which leaks the contents to atmosphere in very cold temperatures. Because paraffin cans were red, the polar team placed them atop the cairns to over-winter, guaranteeing that they'd be empty a year later, when badly needed. But you can't blame the extended cold periods with colder than normal temperatures on Captain Scott. And even with food and fuel, those poor three who died in the tent had feet which had failed completely. You just can't walk around a high plateau with wet of freezing feet, for months at a time....Antarctica is not a forgiving place and technical mistakes become fatal mistakes.
5

September 24, 2017

Don't take ponies to the Antarctic
Very excellent look at the personalities of two polar explorers, their journeys, and their fateful competition finally to reach the South Pole. I was fascinated by the differences between these two people, Amundsen and Scott. Amundsen was methodical to an extreme. He learned about every aspect of polar travel, through visits with explorers, volunteering on expeditions, reading, and direct training about skiing, running dogs, nutition, sailing into polar waters, etc. etc. He was conpulsive about understanding everything possible about everything that might have an impact on an expedition. Amundsen also valued the knowledge of indigenous people about traveling in polar regions, food, clothing, etc. He didn't see them as savages with nothing to teach. Scott was haphazard and careless in his approach. He took the attitude that a large and well-funded team could wing it and overcome problems as they occurred. He didn't value the knowledge of indigenous people who had lived in the Arctic for eons. He took ponies to the Antarctic as pack animals. He hated sled dogs. What is there for a pony to eat in the pack ice? Nothing. What can a dog eat? Seals. Penguins. In the worst case even another dog. The author also discusses the more general differences between Norwegians and the English as regards exploration and even behavior toward subordinates.
5

April 12, 2015

The English party suffered great difficulties on the trip to the pole and then ...
Meticulously researched book on polar explorers Englishman Robert Scott and his Norwegian rival Roald Amundsen. For history buffs it is a treasure trove of insights about the European world in the very early 20th Century. For contemporary readers, the contrast between the two men highlight the personal traits that lead to significant success or total disaster in any era.

Readers of course know that the two explorers were competing to be the first to reach the south pole. Both parties had to cover roughly 1500 miles "on foot" from their base camps. Amundsen reached the pole five weeks ahead of Scott. The Norwegian party reached the pole with relatively little difficulty, and returned to base without significant difficulties. The English party suffered great difficulties on the trip to the pole and then the explorers who did reach the pole perished on the return trip.

The legend of Scott as the brave Englishman who perished while fighting impossible odds was a tale told to generations of English school children. This book blows that myth to pieces as Scott is shown to be a self promoting careerist who saw the polar expedition as a path to promotion in the British Navy. He never bothered with proper preparations, was a miserable leader, made an endless number of inexplicably stupid decisions, and never bothered to learn anything from other more expert polar explorers.

Amundsen by contrast spent nearly five years in preparation for the trip to the pole. He hand picked a crew of seasoned arctic explorers and organized his expedition with meticulous care. He was a solid leader, excellent organizer and highly experienced in arctic exploration. In the end, he succeeded where Scott failed completely. However many people at the time discounted his achievement because it looked almost too easy.

Even though readers know the outcome of the race to the pole when they begin reading page 1, the contrast between the two expeditions is so compelling a story that this book is a genuine "page turner". It is the kind of story that has many lessons to teach, This is a book that would be a good one for business students, or managers of almost any enterprise. It highlights the way to almost guarantee failure (Scott) as contrasted with the things necessary to give yourself a chance at success.
5

Mar 31, 2014

When people ask me about my all-time favourite book it takes about a second and a half for me to reply The Last Place on Earth by Roland Huntford. At one time I would then launch with no further prompting and usually to the distress of my listener on a reverent summary of Huntford’s masterful retelling of the classic tale of Scott and Amundsen’s 1911/1912 race to the South Pole. And in the 20 years since discovering this literary gift I still give the book as my all-time favourite but, When people ask me about my all-time favourite book it takes about a second and a half for me to reply The Last Place on Earth by Roland Huntford. At one time I would then launch with no further prompting and usually to the distress of my listener on a reverent summary of Huntford’s masterful retelling of the classic tale of Scott and Amundsen’s 1911/1912 race to the South Pole. And in the 20 years since discovering this literary gift I still give the book as my all-time favourite but, fortunately for anyone who still asks, I have quit trying to do justice to Huntford’s book by pinning them into a corner and expounding on its merits with my eyes closed. A few weeks ago, however, I made my third vicarious journey with Huntford to Terra Australis Incognita and was moved to purge myself one last time of the sentiment I have for this skillfully crafted biography.

First and foremost, it is a superb story…

A decade into the Twentieth Century the romance of Britain’s Victorian Era was little more than a fond memory and the nation’s self-esteem lay bleeding on the abandoned ground of the once mighty Empire. While the Edwardians were quietly dropping their heads and rising to leave their seats, an Arthurian hero walked into the world theater and a new hope for the revival of England’s national consciousness took the stage. A son of the crumbling Empire Robert Falcon Scott took up the sword for a people starved for a conqueror. Outwardly confident and undeniably brave he was an almost unbreakable fighter but cursed with critical flaws that carried the seeds of his own death. Driven by a fear that his countrymen could not see and could never abide Scott left his home in 1911 in an ill provisioned and leaky boat with the weight of Britannia on his shoulders and the lives of his fellow expeditioners in his hands. His goal - to stand on the last great undiscovered place on Earth and to retrieve there by placing his feet and his country’s flag upon it both his own self-respect and Britain’s national glory.

In the wings behind Scott, however, lurked his nemesis Roald Amundsen. Calculating, confident, efficient, and hardened by experience - like his homeland in the white north Amundsen was cold and brutally intense. The Viking son of a nation struggling for a voice at the world table, and a protégé of its people’s last hero turned reluctant diplomat, Amundsen came forward to take the mantle of Nordic conquest from Nansen’s failing hands with every intention of snatching Scott’s victory from his.

And so the stage is set, and no fiction writer could have crafted the tale that follows any better than the way that these two men and the characters that supported them carved it in reality. It is a classical drama that incorporates all of the best elements of a good story: a moral message, a noble quest, conflict and resolution, tension and release, intrigue, and even some juicy controversy. The characters are complex, palpable, and their individual qualities can be found plotted all over the wide bell curve of the human condition. And as good as the story of Scott and Amundsen’s race to the South Pole is, it is all the more hypnotic and engaging because it is not a work of fiction. It is not a story broadcast on the narrow bandwidth of a single creator’s circumscribed imagination. It is built from the rich fabric of the real world and its infinite stock of characters and possibilities. The story is real and is, because of that, not just stranger than fiction but far more interesting.

Secondly, the story is relevant…

There is a multi-million dollar business in leadership training and you can spend a ton of money on books, seminars, and classroom and placement training if you feel the need. But I maintain that if you want to keep your money in your pocket and still learn the bulk of what is good and bad in leadership styles and method then The Last Place on Earth is practically the only source of information you will ever need. For Huntford’s biography is not just a fantastic story but an analysis of how and why it unfolded the way that it did; and his analysis cuts deeply into the leadership of both of the story’s main characters.

The dissection is thorough and, in Scott’s case, unsparing. In The Last Place on Earth Huntford reveals Scott as a criminally negligent bungler, impaired by prejudice and governed by childish insecurities. With the obvious depth of Huntford’s research and the clarity of his logical argumentation, The Last Place on Earth did much to bring what many view as a more realistic and objective image of R.F. Scott to a public, especially a British one long accustomed to the consumption of distorted and sanitized images that were in no small part the result of Scott’s own account of the expedition. By refuting with undeniable authority the claim that Scott was the victim of circumstance Huntford’s book brought low a national icon and a storm of severe protest down upon himself; and thus the book takes on with its political impact yet another dimension in a way similar to Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses.

On the other side of the story Huntford says little that is not downright flattering about Amundsen whose preparation, methods, and whose personal traits and attitudes are shown to be not only the main factors of his success in being the first person to stand at the South Pole, but also factors that could lead to little other than success in his or any endeavour. Amundsen, Huntford argues, had no less of an arduous task to perform that Scott and had to perform that task in essentially the same environment under the same conditions. Huntford debunks the claim that Amundsen was the beneficiary of more benign weather and easier ground than was Scott. He goes on to clearly delineate how Amundsen’s tactics were not only designed specifically and consciously to minimize risk from difficult weather and terrain but how failure to employ similar tactics made it virtually impossible for Scott to achieve his goals in all but the most benign polar environment. Amundsen built safety margins that would see him through conditions far worse than he actually encountered, Scott built margins that were inadequate for all but the most forgiving of Antarctic conditions.

Most importantly, however, the tale of Amundsen and Scott is a superbly entertaining drama that will stand the test of time. It has roots deep in the soil of the human condition and speaks to us about things that we are not likely to ever lose our taste for – excitement and adventure, exploration and discovery, contest and victory, and even (especially in the case of the Edwardians) struggle and defeat. And Roland Huntford’s The Last Place on Earth is by far the most superbly crafted retelling of this story.
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4

Apr 10, 2008

What I learned: Don't attempt to be the first person to reach the South Pole if you don't really know anything about polar exploration. Also, stories about explorers in Antarctica are less depressing than stories of explorers elsewhere, because nobody lives in Antarctica, so there's no colonialism or genocide involved.

Foolery aside, this is a fascinating book.
5

September 3, 2018

Meticulously researched. Outstanding read.
Having read a number of works that neglect to properly analyze the bungling of Robert F Scott, and some that attempt to persuade the reader that Scott was primarily interested in Science, and only secondarily in attaining the pole first, this book is a breath of fresh air that truly examines, compares, and contrasts the two expeditions. The great irony is that Amundsen was so over-prepared already that he could have afforded to "do science" also. However, he never pretended that the pole was secondary to science. Had he intended on science, he would have had even more provisions and preparations for the mission. Scott was trying to win the pole and make scientific observations while being poorly prepared for either aspect. Amundsen planned the finest details with years of preparation and with double and triple redundancy in provisions and equipment. Scott arrived at the barrier without understanding, or being trained for, dogs, skis, optimal clothing, or anything else that mattered. If hauling sleds was his backup plan, then he was completely underprepared for even that. He was doomed before he ever set sail.

Scott was such a bungler that I would go so far as to say that his name does not belong along with Amundsen's at the South Pole station.
4

September 29, 2012

A Worthwhile Read, whether you Agree with it or Not
I suppose it's dangerous to walk into the minefield that is the discussion of this book, but things have died down a bit since it's re-release in this edition, so I'll just take a few brief steps. This is a fascinating book about a fascinating episode in the history of exploration. I'll declare myself at the start in saying that I have a dim view of Scott but also look askance at times at Amundsen. We in the Anglo-Saxon like our self-destructive heroes, from the defenders of the Alamo to Custer to Captain Scott. Often nothing can succeed like failure, and Scott in my view failed big-time. Determined to adapt the environment to his perceptions and expectations rather than adjust his own plans and behavior to the situation he walked into, his bad judgments -- one after the other -- wound up dooming himself and others. Huntford's analysis stands up, I think, though I do agree that he occasionally rubs it in without needing to, as well as going a little too far in his speculating. On the whole, though, I believe his criticisms of Scott are right on target. You can argue that part of the English failure was bad luck, but Scott had put the party in a position where no margin of safety existed, and "bad luck" was really only an expression varying conditions that one should have planned for in advance. Keep in mind: Amundsen was out there too, and he got back. Where I am most in disagreement with Huntford is the subject of Amundsen himself. The Norwegian explorer is portrayed, I think, in too much of a favorable light, with some of his shortcomings downplayed or ignored. The book condemns Scott and extols Amundsen. I think a little less of the latter would have been preferable. Still, whether your views parallel mine or not, this is a great read, though a bit turgid in some places.
5

Dec 03, 2011

First off - don't read this book if you really, really like Captain Robert Scott. You probably shouldn't even read it if you even have ever had a slight admiration for him.

Huntford, the author, rips Scott a new one approximately 4,000 times throughout the almost 550 page book. I don't think I need spoilers in this review, as everyone already knows that Amundson the Norwegian won and Scott the Brit lost, so I'll just say it here - I was shocked to hear that technically speaking, poor Scott never First off - don't read this book if you really, really like Captain Robert Scott. You probably shouldn't even read it if you even have ever had a slight admiration for him.

Huntford, the author, rips Scott a new one approximately 4,000 times throughout the almost 550 page book. I don't think I need spoilers in this review, as everyone already knows that Amundson the Norwegian won and Scott the Brit lost, so I'll just say it here - I was shocked to hear that technically speaking, poor Scott never even made it to the South Pole - they were still a few miles off when they brushed off their gloves and said, "welp let's head back."

This book is basically an exacting summary of the ineptitude of the entire British expedition, the "good ol' boy" style of the British upper class that allowed Scott to even get the expedition started, and the unbelievable tyranny of the majority - of both the British and Norwegian populace.

On the contrary, Huntford heaps praises constantly on Amundson, who he seems to greatly admire. It's telling that in the opening pages of the book, Huntford says he is "required to print" a statement from Scott's son complettely disavowing any connection with the book or its author. I should have realized right then that this book was going to completely throw paint on the relatively pristine wall of Scott's reputation.

As far as I can tell Huntford did his homework quite thoroughly before beginning this work (and judging from the pages and pages of resources and citations in the back of the book, it appears he did) - using personal testimonies and the diaries/journals/letters that it seems everyone in the early 20th century enjoyed so much to detail just how organized Amundson was, and how Scott was not.

There's only a few times when Huntford directly compliments Scott - to say that he was a brilliant writer able to capture the public's sympathy, and when talking about his vast stocism. Both of those are rather double-edged. The single time I can recall a compliment freely given is when Scott is talking to his men about science before starting out from the pole, where Huntford seems to sadly say that he missed a much safer calling that he really could have shined in.

I almost wanted to give the book 4 stars for two reasons: I felt that many more diagrams, and better made, might make the reader's tracking of the two racing groups easier, and also because it really did start to wear on me with just how merciless Huntford was in biting into almost every aspect of Scott's character. And the part that perhaps Sir Peter Scott, the son, disagreed with the most was the fact that Huntford felt the need to mention that Scott's wife (Peter's mother) briefly had an affair with Amundson's Norwegian mentor while her husband was exploring the pole seemed a bit unnecessary.

However, the book is worth five stars for the sheer detail and exciting way that Huntford writes. There's a lot of setup in the early part of the book (it's even set up into book 1 and 2) that was a little bit slower to read, but when the men are all at the edges of Antarctica and champing at the bit to get going, the story flows along as easily as sledges on hard packed snow.

It was only fitting that I finished the book while my plane was flying over the southern tip of Greenland, where Amundson's mentor became famous. Staring down at the endless icy expanse below my 747, I can only imagine what it was like for them. And thanks to this book, my imagination was able to become a lot more vivid. ...more
5

September 21, 2017

A Great Book About a Little Thought of Expedition
When this book first came out close to 30 years ago it was such an inspiration to me that it prompted my two lengthy expedition trips to the Antarctic.

I've used this book as a lesson in leadership to young people attending high school and even college (it was required reading in a leadership class that one of my students just took over the summer at Cornell University).

The difference in leadership styles demonstrated here between Scott and Amundsen is night and day and it's clear that this is one of the main reasons why Amundsen reached the South Pole 34 days ahead of Scott and why he was able to live out his life basking in the glory of his accomplishments while Scott and his team relied on Scott's wife to try to drum up support for her husband's tragic end succumbing to the cold just 11 miles from a supply depot.

Reading the book was great but "reading" it again through the CDs while driving was very enjoyable. There were numerous times when I arrived home and sat in the driveway listening to another chapter before heading into the house.
5

Aug 06, 2015

(Short note: Forget about Jules Verne's, Charles Dickens's, Mark Twain's or whatever other adventure stories you might have read growing up. This is the ultimate adventure book and it's stunning because IT ALL HAPPENED!!)

As I was browsing through a random book at Fram Museum in Oslo a few months ago, my eyes rested on a small passage of Amundsen's letter that he left at the South Pole: he was wishing all the best to the British explorer Scott, who was expected to reach the Pole later, and (Short note: Forget about Jules Verne's, Charles Dickens's, Mark Twain's or whatever other adventure stories you might have read growing up. This is the ultimate adventure book and it's stunning because IT ALL HAPPENED!!)

As I was browsing through a random book at Fram Museum in Oslo a few months ago, my eyes rested on a small passage of Amundsen's letter that he left at the South Pole: he was wishing all the best to the British explorer Scott, who was expected to reach the Pole later, and telling him to please take whatever supplies he needed from his camp.

Fram Museum was one of the most spectacular museums that I've ever visited. It stuck with me and as soon as I was settled down again I was ready to learn more about Roald Amundsen, who now became one of my greatest idols. This book literally rewrote history and gave Amundsen the fame that he well deserves. It is spectacular showing how little "good luck" is actually needed in succeeding and how much dedication and preparation goes into a Polar exploration.

The book goes through two parallel stories: the first of the Norwegian explorer, and the second is Scott's, the British. It's way more than a story of reaching the Pole, because over half the book is only about their lives up to the point of starting the expedition. At least Roald "The Last Viking" Amundsen's life up until that point is very much relevant to his success. At the same time, the book does a very careful description of why Scott failed and casts a huge shadow over his reputation as a hero. The book was pretty controversial in the UK when it was first published, and now I'm out googling what's the current thought on it.

You know how teenage girls fall in love with actors or later directors or singers? Well, I'm definitely in love with Roald Amundsen. ...more
5

Mar 08, 2017

Not exactly "Scott and Amundsen" as much as "Amundsen, with a dash of Scott". The focus of this book is primarily Roald Amundsen, and with good reason. The story of Amundsen is a fascinating story of human intelligence and learning, more than grit and passion as Scott would make it seem. The book is stunningly researched with a wealth of first accounts put together in a coherent narrative that flows from adventure to adventure. It is hard to grasp the number of sources Huntford has referred to Not exactly "Scott and Amundsen" as much as "Amundsen, with a dash of Scott". The focus of this book is primarily Roald Amundsen, and with good reason. The story of Amundsen is a fascinating story of human intelligence and learning, more than grit and passion as Scott would make it seem. The book is stunningly researched with a wealth of first accounts put together in a coherent narrative that flows from adventure to adventure. It is hard to grasp the number of sources Huntford has referred to with even the diary of a Bristol schoolgirl finding a voice. You know that at almost every point you are reading the truth.

His admiration for Amundsen flows in each page and it is justified at almost every point with a dedication to tell the truth that was long obscured by Brit pride. Heroic bungler Scott is dealt with as much objectivity as one can muster, although there is the sense that his faults were explored in far more detail than those of Amundsen. Probably because Scott's were a lot more evident.

I found the starting rather slow, however I think that was more because of trying exploration books for the first time. The Race for the Pole, and Amundsen's journey of the North West Passage are true legends that are done perfect justice by Huntford's masterful account. The story of the North West Passage in particular was a pleasant surprise and it is this journey that actually shows the depth of Amundsen's readiness to learn from what is available to him.

Overall, a stunning work that really stands on the shoulders of the Earth's greatest Polar explorer. ...more
1

January 26, 2015

If the author were open about the fact that it ...
If the author were open about the fact that it is a work of fiction, it would deserve a much higher rating

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