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

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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):

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.
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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).
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
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
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

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

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
5

Jun 07, 2008

Huntford wrote the definitive book on the famous Race to the South Pole between Englishman Robert F. Scott and Norwegian Roald Amundsen. Not to give it away, but-- Amundsen won!

Huntford crafted more than an historical account of the two expeditions. The Last Place on Earth intertwines the biographies of two very different men and examines their competing world views using the race as a lens. To research the book, he combed through all manner of records from military reports and bank statements Huntford wrote the definitive book on the famous Race to the South Pole between Englishman Robert F. Scott and Norwegian Roald Amundsen. Not to give it away, but-- Amundsen won!

Huntford crafted more than an historical account of the two expeditions. The Last Place on Earth intertwines the biographies of two very different men and examines their competing world views using the race as a lens. To research the book, he combed through all manner of records from military reports and bank statements to letters and the testimony of mere acquaintances. Each man receives a thorough investigation from childhood until death, as professional Polar explorers and private men. Nature could not draw a sharper contrast between two people, yet Huntford gives both their due.

Most significantly, Huntford pierces the aura surrounding Robert F. Scott's life and death. Though not very successful as a naval officer, dying in Antarctica transformed Scott into the ideal hero of the British Empire. The facts prove Scott was willfully stubborn, inexperienced with polar conditions, and blinded by romantic notions of Man's Indomitable Will to Triumph. Under imperial delusions of grandeur, he trapped three men into sharing his demise. Nevertheless, he remains a revered figure in Antarctic history. Huntford gives a frank appraisal of the man, the first in the genre, with such conclusive research that every subsequent book about the journeys cannot ignore his findings.

I will read Huntford's books on Shackelton and Nansen when mail resumes in the spring... another three months! Oh well, I've more to do than read about the past. ...more
3

Mar 17, 2012

Roland Huntford's take on the race to the South Pole is fascinating, often riveting. But his relentless bashing of Robert Falcon Scott gets a bit tiresome. I'm far from an expert; it seems much of the criticism of Scott is deserved if one looks strictly at what was the most efficient and safest way to the pole. Roald Amundsen is so prepared and efficient that it almost takes the fun out of his first-to-the-pole feat. Scott, who of course died on his way back after losing the race to the pole, in Roland Huntford's take on the race to the South Pole is fascinating, often riveting. But his relentless bashing of Robert Falcon Scott gets a bit tiresome. I'm far from an expert; it seems much of the criticism of Scott is deserved if one looks strictly at what was the most efficient and safest way to the pole. Roald Amundsen is so prepared and efficient that it almost takes the fun out of his first-to-the-pole feat. Scott, who of course died on his way back after losing the race to the pole, in many ways certainly seemed reckless. But there also was something sort of heroic about relying so much on simple human effort, lunkheaded and foolhardy as it might sometimes have seemed.

Anyway, Huntford pulls no punches; it's just a warning that those who want detached, kid-gloves treatment should look elsewhere. Otherwise, this is quite good, though not up to the standards of what would follow, Huntford's Ernest Shackleton biography. ...more
4

Feb 05, 2009

I've always been struck by the fact that the British revere Scott, a miserable failure, in my estimation. He was smug, didn't do his homework, and wasted resources on a doomed effort. Amundsen, on the other hand, studied the Eskimos to learn how to survive in harsh arctic conditions, learned how to use dogs, including eating them as they went along, and he breezed to the South Pole and back almost as easily as a walk in the park. Scott insisted on taking mules, which required that he haul hay I've always been struck by the fact that the British revere Scott, a miserable failure, in my estimation. He was smug, didn't do his homework, and wasted resources on a doomed effort. Amundsen, on the other hand, studied the Eskimos to learn how to survive in harsh arctic conditions, learned how to use dogs, including eating them as they went along, and he breezed to the South Pole and back almost as easily as a walk in the park. Scott insisted on taking mules, which required that he haul hay along. Just ridiculous. ...more
3

May 21, 2018

It was obvious from Scott's own diaries that he was a bit petty and overly dramatic, and that his expedition to the South Pole was somewhat poorly organised, but this (very entertaining) book makes it sound even worse, something akin to a Laurel and Hardy movie in terms of incompetence. More than anything though, it's clear that the author really, really hates R.F. Scott. Roland Huntford hates Scott with the fire of a thousand suns. Roland Huntford hates Scott so much, it's as if Scott had taken It was obvious from Scott's own diaries that he was a bit petty and overly dramatic, and that his expedition to the South Pole was somewhat poorly organised, but this (very entertaining) book makes it sound even worse, something akin to a Laurel and Hardy movie in terms of incompetence. More than anything though, it's clear that the author really, really hates R.F. Scott. Roland Huntford hates Scott with the fire of a thousand suns. Roland Huntford hates Scott so much, it's as if Scott had taken Huntford's pet hamster and put him in a microwave and then stomped on whatever was left of it after that. Huntford hates Scott as if Scott had killed Huntford's mother personally and then insulted her a couple times for good measure.

In a way, the book is more revealing of Huntford than Scott or Amundsen. Everything Amundsen does is justified and excused, whereas Huntford doesn't have a single good thing to say about Scott, to an almost comical extent. Even benign aspects of Scott's biography are seen as proof of his flaws: marrying an interesting woman is interpreted as a sign that Scott was a hen-pecked loser, for example, and every time Huntford mentions Scott's wife, his words are dripping with thinly veiled misogyny. Huntford appears to worship a particular narrow view of masculinity and 'proper' male behaviour, and those who fit it are his heroes, no matter what (Amundsen, Scott's Polar companion Oates), whereas those who reveal themselves to be too insecure, melancholic or sentimental are reviled (Scott himself, Wilson, or Amundsen's man Johansen).

Strangely enough, I came out of it with a more forgiving attitude towards Scott than before. It's clear that both explorers were very flawed as human beings (like we all are) and as leaders. Amundsen made mistakes, too (such as initially starting on the Polar journey too early in the season, a decision that almost ended in disaster), and there were plenty of unsavoury aspects about his character, too. Nobody's perfect, and all pedestals are bound to crumble. But it's easier for me to empathise with Scott's indecision, his depression, his worries, his bursts of emotion, his jealousy, because he lays them bare for all to see. I feel that I know him better. Amundsen's distant, determined competence remains inaccessible to me.

In the end, it's undeniable that Amundsen was the better explorer, but Scott had the better story. And even though Huntford may disagree (which would be strange for a writer, though!), the story is actually just as important as the expedition. Going to the Pole is meaningless in and of itself: it's just a spot in a barren place. The whole point of an exploration is to let others know what you've found, and not just as data, but also to give them something to be excited and dream about. Amundsen may have been prepared for all other aspects of his journey, but if he could not tell a good story, then he neglected something very important, while Scott's people ran with it.

It's a good read, though!










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4

Nov 16, 2017

It was still the age of discovery, the start of the twentieth century. The North Pole had just been conquered. No one had yet been to the South Pole. Norway was still a backward country ruled by Sweden, badly in need of a national hero. Roald Amundsen was born to be an explorer. Once he had decided to conquer the South Pole, he let nothing stand in his way. A natural leader, he painstakingly provided his men with all they needed for survival in a hostile, frozen continent. British Commander It was still the age of discovery, the start of the twentieth century. The North Pole had just been conquered. No one had yet been to the South Pole. Norway was still a backward country ruled by Sweden, badly in need of a national hero. Roald Amundsen was born to be an explorer. Once he had decided to conquer the South Pole, he let nothing stand in his way. A natural leader, he painstakingly provided his men with all they needed for survival in a hostile, frozen continent. British Commander Scott was Amundsen's perfect foil. He was a well born pompous British naval officer, rigid in command, obsessed with his public image, careless with the lives of men and animals. The results of both expeditions were easy enough to predict, though there is no satisfaction in reading about the suffering of human beings and animals pushed beyond the physical and psychological limits. For me, the triumph of the human quest for discovery is somewhat overshadowed by the fate of the creatures that were so paramount in reaching the South Pole. ...more
5

Jan 13, 2019

Inspiring and detailed story of how to properly plan, prepare and execute something ambitious that hasn't been done before.
Huntford has two parallel paths going: to success, and to failure. And two characters that could not be more different with more different endings to their lives. One of my favourite paragraphs at the end of the book summarises the fundamentals: 'Scott wanted to be a hero; Amundsen merely wanted to get to the Pole. Scott, with his instinct for self-dramatization, was Inspiring and detailed story of how to properly plan, prepare and execute something ambitious that hasn't been done before.
Huntford has two parallel paths going: to success, and to failure. And two characters that could not be more different with more different endings to their lives. One of my favourite paragraphs at the end of the book summarises the fundamentals: 'Scott wanted to be a hero; Amundsen merely wanted to get to the Pole. Scott, with his instinct for self-dramatization, was playing to the gallery; Amundsen thought of the job in hand, not of an audience.'

The level of detail and research that has gone into this duography is impressive and for all adventure lovers, simply fascinating to read.

Unfortunately, due to the timing of reading this book there are too many unfunny parallels that can be drawn to the Brexit disaster, the most important one being learning from mistakes and making decisions accordingly. ...more
5

May 19, 2019

A bit pedantic and repetitive at times as the author never misses even one sentence to remind you how much of a buffoon Scott was and how great Amundsen was. But still an amazing book to read and a really interesting idea about what we take for heroism and what we don't.
4

Dec 13, 2018

I love me a good arctic adventure story and this was certainly that.
4

Jun 13, 2017

A well-told tale of the two polar explorers, their two different national cultures, their different strengths and weaknesses as men and as leaders and how the complex interplay between it all had a profound influence not only on them in their time, but also on how we remember them.
0

Mar 14, 2019

Synopsis: in the early twentieth century, getting to the South Pole was the challenge. Britain's Robert Scott and Norway's Roald Amundsen tried.
5

Feb 13, 2018

Not too often does one come across a book that is thrill-a-minute & adrenaline pumping, is a study in planning, leadership styles & crisis management and is non-fictional, fully based on real life events.

As far as personalities go, Amundsen and Scott were the proverbial poles apart. And that’s probably what set them apart in their pursuit for pole position in the race to the South pole. Huntford does a wonderful comparative character study, although his no holds barred all out attack on Not too often does one come across a book that is thrill-a-minute & adrenaline pumping, is a study in planning, leadership styles & crisis management and is non-fictional, fully based on real life events.

As far as personalities go, Amundsen and Scott were the proverbial poles apart. And that’s probably what set them apart in their pursuit for pole position in the race to the South pole. Huntford does a wonderful comparative character study, although his no holds barred all out attack on Scott does get tiresome at times. Prone as he is to hyperbole and sweeping generalizations, the author still succeeds spectacularly in bringing out the magnitude of Amundsen's tour de force and leaves no stone unturned in his efforts to launch a stinging critique of not just Scott but the vainglorious stoicism of the Brits.

Unputdownable - now I know what that means :)







...more
5

Jul 12, 2009

This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I love this book. It brings the early 20th century era of polar exploration to life.( My edition was marred by several typos but not enough to damage the pleasure to be found in this book.) It not only covers the period leading up to Amundsen and Scott's race to the pole, but also is a detailed biography of each. The contrast between these two men is epic. Amundsen spent years preparing for travel in the polar regions. He studied those who went before, learned from the native peoples who live in I love this book. It brings the early 20th century era of polar exploration to life.( My edition was marred by several typos but not enough to damage the pleasure to be found in this book.) It not only covers the period leading up to Amundsen and Scott's race to the pole, but also is a detailed biography of each. The contrast between these two men is epic. Amundsen spent years preparing for travel in the polar regions. He studied those who went before, learned from the native peoples who live in the Arctic, studied the equipment used and/ or needed in detail. Scott with a stereotypical Victorian British attitude just decided to give it a go because it would be good for his career. He dismissed anything to be learned from native peoples as useless to modern civilized men. He dismissed using sled dogs or skis because he couldn't be bothered to learn how best to work with either. He felt that Englishmen tethered to sled weighing several hundred pounds, dragging it hundreds of miles through the worst climate on earth was much more of a noble enterprise worthy of English gentlemen. It is a race between what we would call today, an obsessive compulsive personality and an entitled supercilious man with such defensiveness no one could tell him anything. The race was lost by Scott before it even began.

The irony is that the incompetent leader who lost the race, got himself and his men killed, became a international hero, enshrined in the British Empire's pantheon of secular saints. This happened because the British were much better at public relations than the Norwegians.

Sad as the outcome is, this book is a great journey of discovery. Please spend some time with it.



...more
4

Jul 08, 2014

This is an amazing book. It is thrilling and at the same time very interesting from the historical point of view. The only thing that may be considered a weakness is the bias that the book carries so strongly. Scott is depicted as such a feeble character in so many words that it is sometimes hard to imagine that so many people believed in his competence for so long. But it is a good, interesting and entertaining book, very well writen and highly recommended.
3

Oct 20, 2016

The Last Place on Earth is an exhaustive, well-researched account of Scott and Amundsen's race to the South Pole, but I can't rate it any higher because of the author's huge bias against Scott. I get it--Scott isn't my favorite either, but contempt and loathing ooze off every page, which makes it a little hard to trust the author's conclusions.
4

Mar 16, 2018

It's long and slow, like a long hike to the South Pole, but don't let that fool you. This thing is like "Antarctic Citizen Kane."

Huntford takes 100 pages establishing Amundsen's skill and acumen. Then in about 40, he dismantles the myth of Scott. The book that follows from this set-up functions as a revisionist history in which Amundsen's name is elevated at the expense of Scott's mythmaking, and in between are fresh insights on how geopolitical PR campaigns have long had a lasting influence on It's long and slow, like a long hike to the South Pole, but don't let that fool you. This thing is like "Antarctic Citizen Kane."

Huntford takes 100 pages establishing Amundsen's skill and acumen. Then in about 40, he dismantles the myth of Scott. The book that follows from this set-up functions as a revisionist history in which Amundsen's name is elevated at the expense of Scott's mythmaking, and in between are fresh insights on how geopolitical PR campaigns have long had a lasting influence on memory and the perception of history. In the rich world Huntford reconstructs, the quest for the South Pole is something like the space race—so much was on the line for what amounted to stepping into territory that was more or less uninhabitable. Despite his incompetence, Scott became the hero because of his literary writing style and theatrical death, and Amundsen was forgotten—becoming something like a Captain Ahab, a Citizen Kane whose Rosebud was subsumed by the utter accomplishment of his singular life goal—the South Pole. (One major question mark is Huntford's insinuation that Scott's wife had an affair with Amundsen's mentor, the explorer Fridtjof Nansen — without proper citation, this felt VERY DUBIOUS).

Huntford could have definitely trimmed the fat in some places, but the truly amazing set-pieces—Amundsen's decision to secretly change his expedition course from the North to South Poles (at the suggestion of the shifty Frederick Cook, no less)—and Amundsen's discovery of the Pole (followed by Scott's arrival and discovery of Amundsen's note)—animate these larger-than-life characters in memorable ways. And like Kane and Ahab, obsession can only get these explorers so far. Ruin and death for one (and his followers), and misery for the one who survived—until he too succumbs, and chooses a 'heroic' death that ends up 'salvaging' his reputation. ...more
4

May 12, 2019

Huntford does not suffer fools gladly, and, by Christ, does he consider Scott a fool.

He has absolutely nothing good to say about an explorer more widely regarded as an ill-fated hero, other than back-handed compliments on his ability as a writer. He blames Scott almost exclusively for the tragedy at the South Pole (though he does also, more generally, lay blame to British Navy methods and, by extension, British attitudes of the the time). He derides Scott's inability to learn from his mistakes, Huntford does not suffer fools gladly, and, by Christ, does he consider Scott a fool.

He has absolutely nothing good to say about an explorer more widely regarded as an ill-fated hero, other than back-handed compliments on his ability as a writer. He blames Scott almost exclusively for the tragedy at the South Pole (though he does also, more generally, lay blame to British Navy methods and, by extension, British attitudes of the the time). He derides Scott's inability to learn from his mistakes, his choices of apparel and transport, his abilities as a leader of men, his refusal to work with his environment instead of against it, his masochism and apathy, his judgement of character.

Conversely, Huntford has every sympathy and respect for Amundsen, who was utterly undeserving of the reputation of unsporting cheat. Amundsen learned from the experienced (no matter their social standing), respected and was respected by his men, thoroughly prepared for his expeditions, understood his environment. In short, Amundsen was a hero (though he would never have called himself that), and Scott a tragic failure at almost every level.

Huntford is persuasive in his analysis of the two men, but it is so clear-cut, so pro-Amundsen and anti-Scott, that it is probably wise to read one or two other biographies by other writers before drawing any conclusions as to ability and culpability. Huntford is telling us that popular history has it wrong... but is it SO wrong?

A fascinating read. I have his Shackleton on my shelves to look forward to. ...more

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