Race to the Pole: Tragedy, Heroism, and Scott's Antarctic Quest

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During the Golden Era of Exploration, Captain Robert Scott and his competitor Roald Amundsen conquered the unconquerable: Antarctica. This perilous race to the South Pole claimed the life of Scott and became the stuff of legend, as well as endless scrutiny. In this compelling, meticulously researched history of Captain Scott and his fatal journey, renowned modern-day explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes, holder of ten world expeditionary records, has written the definitive book on this hotly debated subject. There is immense fascination with Antarctica, and yet our understanding of South Polar exploration is often clouded by dueling perceptions of the efforts of both Scott and Amundsen. Here, for the first time, Fiennes offers an account of Scott's motivations and aspirations for the Pole, and his historic clash with Amundsen over goals and approaches. Just as fascinating, Fiennes highlights the unpredictably disastrous weather patterns that led to the extreme cold that ultimately doomed Scott's return trip. It is in this gripping account that Fiennes's singular understanding of polar exploration is most apparent.

Race to the Pole provides a level of immediacy and accuracy that no other account has ever approached. As an explorer who has led more than thirty expeditions, including the first polar circumnavigation of the earth and the first unsupported crossing of the Antarctic continent, Fiennes has firsthand knowledge of the grueling feat that Scott and his team undertook, as well as the physical tortures they endured. Infused with the intensity of fiction and exhibiting an exhaustive eye for detail found in the greatest historical biographies, Race to the Pole is a prodigious achievement and certain to become a classic in the literature of exploration.

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Editorial Reviews

Entertainment Weekly
Fiennes' keen observations give Scott's now-familiar story a fresh and unique power.
Publishers Weekly
"We are weak, writing is difficult, but... I do not regret this journey," quotes Fiennes from one of the last letters of Capt. Robert Scott, who reached the South Pole in the summer of 1912 and then perished on the return trip. For generations of Englishmen, Scott was a hero. In the late 1970s, however, a bestselling biography called Scott's exploits into question and his reputation suffered. In this finely honed and riveting account of adventure, death and betrayal, Fiennes, who was the first man to reach both poles by land, seeks to reclaim Scott's place in the pantheon of great and honorable explorers. Fiennes details the tortuous conditions and grim reality of Antarctic exploration at the turn of the last century. Throughout the ordeal, Scott showed leadership, compassion and an unquenchable will to live. Alas, these attributes proved insufficient in the face of a blinding blizzard; he starved and froze to death on his journey home. In a gentle and urbane tone, Fiennes frequently cites his own extraordinary experiences to give perspective to Scott's story. In Fiennes's estimation, Scott succeeded where others failed: he respected his men, was the pride of an empire and made a legitimate and lasting contribution to scientific understanding. four 8-page b&w photo inserts, maps. Agent, Ed Victor. (Nov. 3) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Fiennes, the first man to reach both Poles on land and the only person awarded two clasps to the Polar Medal for both Arctic and Antarctic exploration, provides a gripping, must-read story of Capt. Robert Falcon Scott's legendary Antarctic expeditions. In his determined research, Fiennes gained the exclusive cooperation of the Scott estate, as well as access to the descendants of key players. Fiennes briefly summarizes Scott's family background before detailing his 1901-03 attempt to reach the South Pole and then presenting a thrilling, masterly explanation of his successful 1910-12 bid (though Scott perished on the return journey). This exhaustive analysis conveys the edge-of-life reality of late 19th- and early 20th-century Antarctic expeditions and discredits Roland Huntford's anti-Scott title, Scott and Amundsen. Fiennes has led over 30 expeditions himself, and his firsthand knowledge of the grueling realities Scott faced sets his work apart from the swelling literature on the explorer. Highly recommended for all academic and larger public libraries. Dale Farris, Groves, Texas Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Polar explorer-turned-author Fiennes revisits Robert Scott's ill-fated South Pole journey and counters latter-day debunkers who've set about cutting the great English hero down to size. Author of several true adventure tales based on his own various journeys (Mind Over Matter, 1994, etc.), Fiennes brings his expertise to bear as he retells the story of one of England's most cherished sons. Scores of others may have written of Scott, but, Fiennes points out, none of them have traversed Antarctica on foot, as this writer has. Having established his bona fides, and an authorial voice that brooks no nonsense, Fiennes then details Scott's first and last trips south. We meet the young explorer as he angles for the role of expedition leader, achieves it in 1900, mans and outfits the operation, and plunges into exploration of the harsh continent. This first journey sets the stage for the better-known trip a decade later, in which Norwegian Roald Amundsen stole a march on England and made it to the South Pole a few weeks before Scott's team. Fiennes presents this tale of betrayal-Amundsen had set sail for the North Pole and then abruptly changed course for the Antarctic-with an immediacy that gives the old story fresh sting; his way with the telling detail and a sense of urgency keeps what could be a cumbersome retread bowling along at a great pace. The chronicle of Scott's last days, slowly starving and freezing in a tent just a few miles from a food depot, is particularly well rendered. Fiennes couples his admiring but clear-eyed portrait of a flawed hero with righteous indignation; when he goes after individual authors he feels have got Scott all wrong, the gloves are off. A marvelous plungeinto the arcana of Scott's world-lengthy discussion of the number of calories necessary for a day of sledging, anyone?-and the many myths that followed his glorious failure.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780786888580
  • Publisher: Hyperion
  • Publication date: 11/16/2005
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 484
  • Product dimensions: 5.75 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.25 (d)

Meet the Author

Sir Ranulph Fiennes was the first man to reach both Poles on land, and he is the only person to have been awarded two clasps to the Polar Medal for both Antarctic and Arctic regions. In 1993, Fiennes was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for "human endeavor and charitable services." He is the author of many books, including his autobiography, Living Dangerously, and Mind Over Matter, a harrowing account of his Antarctic expedition. Most recently, he set a world record by running seven marathons in seven days on seven continents. He lives in Somerset, England.

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Table of Contents

Introduction XIII
1 Markham's Grand Design 1
2 Torpedo Lieutenant Scott 12
3 Order Out of Chaos 23
4 Through the Pack Ice: 1901-1902 37
5 Nudging the Great Barrier: 1902 46
6 Dogs, Skis, and Men 56
7 The First Winter 67
8 The Southern Journey: 1902-1903 80
9 Lost on the Plateau: 1903-1904 100
10 A Promise Broken 122
11 The Race Begins: 1910 150
12 Near Disaster: 1911 176
13 The Worst Journey: 1911 207
14 The Dangerous Glacier 239
15 The Black Flag 268
16 Intimations of Tragedy 289
17 The Greatest March Ever Made 307
18 The Legacy 341
19 The Last Word 366
Appendix I Members of the Discovery Expedition, 1901-1904 393
Appendix II Members of the Terra Nova Expedition, 1910-1913 397
Acknowledgments 401
Picture Acknowledgments 405
Bibliography 407
Notes on the Sources 413
Index 447
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