An Antarctica Book List

Trip Start Dec 18, 2008
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Trip End Feb 17, 2009


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Where I stayed
Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station

Flag of Antarctica  ,
Saturday, January 10, 2009

I spend a lot of time in the South Pole library.  It's a small room with a few comfortable full reclining chairs, a beanbag, and two small couches, and even when I'm not in the mood to read, it is the perfect place to catch a lunch break nap, which I am always in the mood for.  Over the years the Pole has accumulated quite a collection of books, and I am pleased to find as a recent college grad, that I still retain a love of reading (something which often lay dormant with heavy course loads.)  The library has everything from science and mechanics to occult and religion.  Though not all- inclusive, there is enough here to keep me occupied.  

I have grown very interested in Adventure Literature, and the South Pole naturally houses an impressive collection of titles relating to it's history.  From what I've seen, some must-reads for continent bookworms including the following:

 Big Dead Place: Inside the Strange & Menacing World of Antarctica by Nicholas Johnson
Anyone considering going to Antarctica should read this.  It was suggested to me first 
by a family friend who had been to the ice, and is a really great view from the working 
side of Antarctica, not just the cruise tours or National Geographic look at the continent. 

The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard 
Many call this the best Antarctic story ever written--a chronicle of Scott's final doomed 
expedition to the South Pole.  Thought the story itself is incredible, most say it is Cherry who makes the book with thoughtful and skillful narration, which is sometimes second to fact in accounts of exploration.

The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition by Carolinelexander
Reading this book off my parent's shelf was one factor which initially drew me to Antarctica.  Shackleton's story is one of the most harrowing and incredible stories  in Antarctic lore, and Alexander provides a well-researched and interesting account, as well as beautiful photo-documentation.

South by Ernest Shacketon
Again, Shackleton's story may be one of the most intersting, and he doesn't give a bad account himself.  In fact, he's a pretty decent writer and an interesting person.  For the fans of first hand accounts.

 My Life as an Explorer
by Roald Amundsen
Amundsen began the great race to the South Pole en route to the North, but changed his mind and made history.  For anyone dreaming of being the first to do something, this is a good one.

South with Endurance: Shackleton's Antarctic Expedition, 1914-1917 by Frank Hurley
Hurley was a part of Shackleton's expedition, and a talented photographer.  Many have pegged this and Alexander's book as companions on Shackleton, but both can stand on their own.  Hurley provides an insider perspective.  
 
Life on the Ice by Roff Smith
I peg Smith as a true bleeding heart Antarctica enthusiast, and I found his book  interesting and well researched.  I think this one has been a bit under-rated, but I think it's worth adding to the library list, especially anyone who, like Smith, dreams themselves of visiting Antarctica.

Terra Incognita: Travels in Antarctica by Sara Wheeler
Wheeler spent some time as a resident writer (Antarctica funds these sorts of things sometimes) and gives account of her experiences along with stories of previous Antarctic explorers.  This book sits in the South Pole gift shop, and gets big hype, but people are a bit divided on it.  It's a bit scattered, and maybe not on the required list, but it does offer a good juxtaposition of ye olde Antarctica and modern day inhabitants.
 
 (I'll add to this list later...promise.)

Seven Months later I reunited with Austin after my own solo travels through Asia and his in South America, and we road tripped from LAS straight to Las Vegas, where nearly everything is free.  While wandering though the Shoppes at the Palazzo and stumbled into Bauman Rare Books, an amazing and unexpected rare book store in the midst of Vegas glitz and brand stores.  We struck up a conversation with JAQ, the magician/writer/rare-book-seller, and upon finding that we were former Antarctic employees, and that I'm a nerdy science artist, he took us into their locked back room and showed us their collections crown jewel:

 Shackleton's Heart of the Antarctic first edition, of which there are only 300 copies.  This three volume set, complete with rare Antarctic book signed by the entire shore party (good old Ernest included) and accompanied by 200 drawings and photo plates, including laboriously hand-stippled portraits of crew members.  I lovingly caressed this work of art, reflecting on the boredom and seclusion which had no doubt led to such precious illustrations, feeling extremely lucky for the opportunity to touch artifacts from this expedition.  Had I known the collection in my hands was selling for $53,000 I probably would have dropped it.  

JAQ claims Adventure literature is a top seller in books and antiquities these days, and the price tag on Shackleton's book lends him credit.  He mused that many people feel trapped in a world where land discovery is no longer an option.  Everything that can be mapped is already mapped.  Every mountain worth climbing has been summited.  Every expanse worth trudging over has been crossed and re-crossed, and crossed in the dead of winter, and by women, and then more quickly.  Adventure literature lets us relive what those first explorers felt when they set foot somewhere no human had ever been and saw sights  completely without precedent.    

 I can truthfully account that any traveler to Antarctica will feel this every time they step outside.  Staring out at the fast expanse of ice surrounding me as I walk to work every day at the Pole literally takes my breath away, and quickens my heart beat.  I feel as if I've woken to find myself on the moon.
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