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When Sir Edmund Hillary made his famous comment about climbing Mount Everest ‘because it was there’, he summed up the raison d’être behind every explorer’s drive to leave safe boundaries and tackle the unknown. The thrill and honor of being the first to explore any geographical region outweighed the enormous risks for those with a special brand of courage and imagination. Adventurers from Strabo, the Roman explorer in the Mediterranean, to Marco Polo in China, David Livingstone in Central Africa and Robert Falcon...
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When Sir Edmund Hillary made his famous comment about climbing Mount Everest ‘because it was there’, he summed up the raison d’être behind every explorer’s drive to leave safe boundaries and tackle the unknown. The thrill and honor of being the first to explore any geographical region outweighed the enormous risks for those with a special brand of courage and imagination. Adventurers from Strabo, the Roman explorer in the Mediterranean, to Marco Polo in China, David Livingstone in Central Africa and Robert Falcon Scott in the Antarctic all shared the common traits of bravery, valor and perseverance in their endeavors to make known the unknown. They became the envy of others and won a place in history, their tales of adventure and hardship at once fascinating, fulfilling, and strangely perplexing. Historical Atlas of Expeditions brings this pioneer breed of men, and women, to life in thrilling detail.
There was a time, not too long ago, when words like "remote" and "unexplored" applied to most of the planet. Humankind's reasons for conquering the surrounding wilderness were numerous. In earliest times the aims of explorers were simple and straightforward—find new sources of water, food, and other essential commodities. Gradually, other motivating factors arose—the quest for fabulous riches, the necessity for trade, the desire for greater power and the subjugation of others, piousness of religious conversion, escape, excitement, or just plain curiosity.
It is this last human trait, however, that has probably contributed most to our drive to explore; whether mounting expeditions to cross hostile terrain, navigate unfriendly oceans, or tame impassable mountain barriers, wanting to know what lies on the other side has been irresistible. Without the desire for knowledge and the need to prove a point mankind may well have stayed put in small clusters and remained tribal in nature.
Throughout history, those who have gone awandering have been out of contact with their own kind, sometimes for years on end. Only recently have explorers benefitted from technological devices: radio, satellite links, geo-positional navigation, email. When Marco Polo journeyed to China no one at home in Venice knew whether he was dead or alive, until he returned. We take communications for granted today, so it is difficult to understand how early explorers ever managed. When Americans landed on the Moon, the whole planet watched and heard the astronauts speak on television. Theachievement of this expedition was certainly no lesser than that of the Polos, but how much more comforting it must have been for the NASA astronauts to be in contact with Houston.
One of the problems with looking at any historic period is that it is impossible to see events as they would have appeared to those experiencing them. To most modern readers, the values and motives of these explorers from the past are almost meaningless, since they frequently bear little relation to those of modern society. We have become used to the idea that modern expeditions are largely scientific in their purpose and may feel inclined to see greed—as well as curiosity—as the prime motivation behind the treks that many detailed in this book undertook. Yet we should not forget that after the conquest of the Moon came the desire to mine its ores for financial gain—once the scientists are done, commerce moves in. In fact this is really very similar to the way expeditions prior to the 20th century worked out.
In the course of discovery there have been tales of heroism and also of heroic failure. Along with every triumph came a catastrophe of epic proportions. Thousands of souls have been sacrificed on the pyre of such enterprise, the optimism and sense of adventure of each one cruelly dashed. As this book shows, some great discoveries have resulted from shrewd cunning, others have been happy accidents. Human endeavor has rarely been as animated and arousing as in the course of conquering the unknown world. To learn how mankind has brought about a world without physical frontier is to understand human nature itself and what makes it tick.