Friday, June 1, 2007

From the Bookshop..., June 2007

By Quillhill

With the removal of each page from the Book of the Day calendar, summer draws nearer. The temperature rises, and thoughts turn to light reading of fast-paced paperbacks, an escape from the care and special handling required with the rare tomes and modern first editions we so desire. Yet not everyone enjoys the beach. Where does one turn to escape the heat?

To the bookshop! Your Bibliothecary has five wonderful books to prescribe for a mind that needs a chill and a soul that needs a thrill.

Man has an insatiable need to explore his world, and not even the harshest conditions can deter him. Antarctica is stingy with her secrets, but for those who are willing to face her forbidding challenges, there is also incredible beauty to be found. One of the most determined of those men was Ernest Shackleton.

The Endurance, by Caroline Alexander tells the gripping story of Shackleton's legendary expedition of 1914-15. What was planned as a trek across the middle of the continent became an epic of survival. Ms. Alexander tells the amazing story, incorporating first-hand photographs and accounts, and keeps the reader breathlessly turning the pages. The sense of heightened conflict rises relentlessly until the incredible conclusion of what is perhaps the greatest adventure story ever.

South With Endurance: Shackleton's Antarctic Expedition 1914-1917 presents a handful of essays from different writers to supplement the photographs of Frank Hurley. Though much of his record had to be abandoned on the ice, a wealth of stunning still images survived and they are presented here in full glory. They reveal the incredible beauty that hides the uncompromising dangers of Antarctica.

Shackleton's plan to cross the continent involved another ship and crew to lay down supplies on the far side of the pole. Shackleton's Forgotten Men: The Untold Tragedy of the Endurance Epic, by Lennard Bickel, tells the story of the Aurora and her crew. Like their counterparts, they were stranded on the ice and faced astonishing challenges in order to survive. They also completed much of their mission. This book has far fewer photographs to support a somewhat drier written account of a similar story, but one that ends differently.

Antarctica: Journeys to the South Pole, by Walter Dean Myers, chronicles each of the major expeditions to the frozen continent. James Cook was the first to cross the Antarctic Circle. James Clark Ross, Charles Wilkes, Carsten Borchgrevink, Adrien de Gerlache de Gomery, Robert Falcon Scott, Roald Amundsen, and Douglas Mawson all led heroic expeditions to, around, and across the continent. Shackleton went three times. The most interesting and tragic story follows the race to the pole between Scott and Amundsen. The Norwegians set out twelve days ahead of the British, and reached their destination a full month ahead. What must it have felt like for Scott and his party when they came upon the Norwegian flag planted in the snow, the evidence that they had been beaten? Disappointment turned to depression, and all the men perished.

The Worst Journey in the World is the first-hand account of Scott's fateful expedition by its youngest member, and one of the search party that found Scott's frozen body, Apsley Cherry-Garrard. Unlike Shackleton's accounts of his own expedition, which present a limited viewpoint, Cherry-Garrard offers a much broader overview of Scott's expedition, offering general information and background, as Ms. Alexander does in her book, in addition to the personal details of their daily trials.

When Richard Evelyn Byrd led his expedition to the continent in 1928, technology had overcome many of the dangers that the earlier explorers had faced. Though he still sailed in a wooden ship, he now had full support of airplanes and radio. Today, most people who go to Antarctica are not explorers, but scientists, their mission to conduct experiments or study nature, living in permanent structures, and they are rarely, if ever, cut off from the rest of the world. Thankfully we have books filled with the personal accounts and detailed histories of the great era of exploration to allow us to relive the heroics of men like Scott and Shackleton.

Come in to the bookshop and enjoy the cool oasis, a respite from the outdoors. These books and more await, and the Antarctic ice never melts. Your mind and body deserve a vacation from the heat.

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