Empire Antarctica: Ice, Silence, and Emperor Penguins

Empire Antarctica: Ice, Silence, and Emperor Penguins

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by Gavin Francis
     
 

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Gavin Francis fulfilled a lifetime's ambition when he spent fourteen months as the basecamp doctor at Halley, a profoundly isolated British research station on the Caird Coast of Antarctica. So remote, it is said to be easier to evacuate a casualty from the International Space Station than it is to bring someone out of Halley in winter.

Antarctica offered a year

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Overview

Gavin Francis fulfilled a lifetime's ambition when he spent fourteen months as the basecamp doctor at Halley, a profoundly isolated British research station on the Caird Coast of Antarctica. So remote, it is said to be easier to evacuate a casualty from the International Space Station than it is to bring someone out of Halley in winter.

Antarctica offered a year of unparalleled silence and solitude, with few distractions and a very little human history, but also a rare opportunity to live among emperor penguins, the only species truly at home in he Antarctic. Following Penguins throughout the year — from a summer of perpetual sunshine to months of winter darkness — Gavin Francis explores the world of great beauty conjured from the simplest of elements, the hardship of living at 50 c below zero and the unexpected comfort that the penguin community bring.

Empire Antarctica is the story of one man and his fascination with the world's loneliest continent, as well as the emperor penguins who weather the winter with him. Combining an evocative narrative with a sublime sensitivity to the natural world, this is travel writing at its very best

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this engrossing account of a doctor’s 14 months at Halley, a British research station on the coast of Antarctica, what truly stands out is the book’s lyrical prose. Francis (True North) forgoes a burgeoning medical career in Britain to live at Halley with a multidisciplinary crew of scientists to study among Empire penguins during a winter season of complete darkness, with temperatures as low as 55 degrees below zero Celsius—cold enough to freeze boiling water in mid-air. While providing thoughtful observations on the life cycle and mating habits of the penguins, Francis also offers a history lesson about past Antarctic pioneers—Ernest Shackleton, Apsley Cherry-Garrard, William Spears Bruce—regaling the reader with the triumphs and failures of his predecessors. Despite struggling with the isolation and silence of Antarctic life, the author’s buoyant optimism keeps the narrative moving; he includes anecdotes about celebrating Christmas, making Easter eggs, even participating in “extreme ironing.” Through Francis’s juxtaposition of literary allusions and poetic descriptions of the Antarctic sky, the vibrant rookery of penguins, and aurora australis, the reader gains new perspective on the frozen continent. Photos. Agent: Jenny Brown, Jenny Brown Associates (U.K.). (Oct.)
From the Publisher

"It is difficult to read this engaging memoir without a smile on one’s face, such is the author’s enthusiasm for the world’s southernmost continent and its endemic penguin species, the Emperor…Francis’s descriptions of his visits to this spot, where 60,000 Emperors live in a 'great penguin jamboree,' add moments of sheer joy to this mesmerizing and memorable book."—The Economist

"A highly readable, enjoyable account of one man’s year serving as a doctor at Halley Research Station… A keen observer of his surroundings, the author writes vividly of auroras, clouds, stars, sunlight, darkness, ice and snow… A literate, stylish memoir of personal adventure rich in history, geography and science." —Kirkus

Library Journal
Medical doctor Francis (True North) writes of joining the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) as the physician at the Halley Research Station on Antarctica's Caird Coast, an ice shelf deep in the Antarctic Circle. He looked forward to the opportunity for introspection, silence, and solitude while experiencing the beauty and difficult conditions of "wintering" in Antarctica. For just over a year (December 2002 through January 2004), Francis provided medical care, dentistry, and help with the practicalities of base life. Fascinated by penguins since he was a boy, he also had the opportunity to study a nearby emperor penguin rookery. Francis chronicles his year at Halley, interweaving the tales of past explorers and their expeditions with his own experiences both at the station and while traveling off base, also incorporating information on penguin biology, as well as geology and some astronomy. In prose that's beautifully descriptive of the natural world and the night sky in winter, Francis lets the reader experience the hardships and wonder of life inside and outside the station. VERDICT Readers who enjoy travel to faraway places, adventure, or the natural history of wild places or who are interested in the past and present of life in Antarctica will relish this book.—Sue O'Brien, Downers Grove P.L., IL
Kirkus Reviews
2013-09-01
A highly readable, enjoyable account of one man's year serving as a doctor at Halley Research Station, the British Antarctic Survey's base on the Brunt Ice Shelf. Francis (True North: Travels in Arctic Europe, 2009) was looking for space, solitude and silence--and a chance to get close to emperor penguins--when he signed on with the survey's medical unit. His job taking care of the men and women on the isolated base was undemanding, giving him time to read, gaze out his window, ski around the base, and help other crew members with their daily chores of keeping the base and its equipment operational and monitoring its research projects. Francis fills his account with many stories of early polar explorers and their ordeals in bitter weather and isolation, lacking as they did the benefits of modern technology that keep today's polar crews in relative comfort and safety. A keen observer of his surroundings, the author writes vividly of auroras, clouds, stars, sunlight, darkness, ice and snow. Who but a doctor would describe a patch of pink-stained snow as "melting down like gently deflating lungs"? Francis is focused not on his companions but on what lies outside their shelter; although he profiles them briefly, readers do not get to know them well. The author makes clear that, on the base, rules of conduct are enforced, and there are a few hints of strife: He smuggled penguin eggs inside the base but was forced to get rid of them, and he was not allowed to dissect an adult bird. In one chapter, Francis discusses the psychological effects of isolated confinement; at the end of his year, his pleasure at his release into a green and fragrant world is clear. What gets surprisingly short shrift here is the emperor penguin, featured in the subtitle but out of reach for much of the author's stay in Antarctica. A literate, stylish memoir of personal adventure rich in history, geography and science.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781619021846
Publisher:
Counterpoint Press
Publication date:
10/15/2013
Pages:
304
Product dimensions:
9.26(w) x 6.44(h) x 0.92(d)

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