The Crystal Desert

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Overview

THE CRYSTAL DESERT: SUMMERS IN ANTARCTICA is the story of life's tenacity on the coldest of Earth's continents. It tells of the explorers who discovered Antarctica, of the whalers and sealers who despoiled it, and of the scientists who are deciphering its mysteries. In beautiful, lucid prose, David G. Campbell chronicles the desperately short summers on the Antarctic Peninsula. He presents a fascinating portrait of the evolution of life in Antarctica and also of the evolution of...

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The Crystal Desert: Summers in Antarctica

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Overview

THE CRYSTAL DESERT: SUMMERS IN ANTARCTICA is the story of life's tenacity on the coldest of Earth's continents. It tells of the explorers who discovered Antarctica, of the whalers and sealers who despoiled it, and of the scientists who are deciphering its mysteries. In beautiful, lucid prose, David G. Campbell chronicles the desperately short summers on the Antarctic Peninsula. He presents a fascinating portrait of the evolution of life in Antarctica and also of the evolution of the continent itself.

The Crystal Desert is not only one of the most eloquent books ever written about Antarctica, but one of the best portraits of a place ever published. It is a story of life's tenacity in the coldest and most alien of continents--a chronicle of events during the desperately short summer when the sun sets only briefly.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Campbell's eloquent chronicle of three summers spent at a desolate research center in Antarctica details the region's geology, botany and animal life. (Jan.)
Library Journal
While Greater Antarctica has often been depicted as a vast, frozen wasteland, marine biologist and researcher Campbell writes that during ``the short erotic summer along the ocean margins of the continent, Antarctica seemed to be a celebration of everything living.'' A rare nonfiction winner of the Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship Award, he recounts three summers he spent on the Antarctica Peninsula. Along with descriptions of seabirds, walruses, and plankton, Campbell ruminates on a number of topics, ranging from his research (``It is snow-hailing this morning when I make my first scuba dive into Admiralty Bay'') to sealing and whaling, geology and paleontology. Campbell effectively delineates the Antarctic with words as Ron Naveen and others did with photography in Wild Ice ( LJ 11/15/90). Crystal Desert will be compared to Barry Lopez's Artic Dreams ( LJ 3/1/86), but Campbell is a scientist who writes rather than a writer about science. Recommended for medium to large public and academic libraries.-- Jean E. Crampon, Hancock Biology & Oceanography Lib . , Univ. of Southern California, Los Angeles
Booknews
The author's personal account of his experiences at the Brazilian Antarctic Research Station during three "erotic summers"--erotic because the only sensible balance to the cold, life-threatening winters of Antarctica is an all out procreative frenzy--both for indigenous life and visiting researchers. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Kirkus Reviews
A glittering, curlicued natural history of Antarctica: Campbell's literary debut and a Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship Award winner. Campbell (Nations and the Global Environment/Grinnell College) passed three summers at Brazil's Antarctic Research Station, in a land of surprisingly abundant life "hatching, squabbling, swimming, and soaring on the sea wind" during the "short, erotic summer." His research centered on marine crustaceans, but his canvas here encompasses all wild creatures of the Antarctic—as well as the humans who have hunted them to near-extinction. Campbell scuba dives in unexplored waters and finds an ocean floor teeming with "a bouquet of species" that includes anemones, sea stars, limpets, giant sea spiders, and more sponges than anywhere else on earth. He collects Weddell seal dung; visits a penguin rookery with its "fetal barnyard stench"; notes the "incongruous—and sublime" presence of fiery volcanoes in a land of ice; watches a "blizzard of plankton" at night and likens it to the swarming stars above. Superlatives abound: the Atlantic Convergence (the waters cutting Antarctica off from the rest of the planet) is "the longest and most important biological barrier on earth"; Antarctica "is the windiest place on earth"; the continent's dry valleys are "the simplest of Earth's ecosystems." Fossils excite Campbell's fancy (he wonders if we might find similar remains on Mars, with its Antarctic-like climate), as do ornithology and plate tectonics. He deplores seal and whale hunting as "carnage," and he frets about the Antarctic blue whale, now protected but perhaps too decimated to repopulate. Yet Campbell seems to appreciate the economic motivesbehind the great age of Antarctic hunting, and he admits to some edginess about Greenpeace—a nuanced position that reflects his firm grasp of the lovely, impossibly tangled web of Antarctic life. Fits nicely alongside Stephen Pyne's The Ice (1986) on the very slim shelf of first-rate Antarctic natural histories.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780618219216
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 5/1/2002
  • Edition description: None
  • Pages: 322
  • Sales rank: 1,018,313
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.72 (d)

Meet the Author

David G. Campbell is the author of the prizewinning Crystal Desert: Summers in Antarctica. He is a professor of biology at Grinnell College.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Prologue: Admiralty Bay 1
1 Seabirds and Wind 20
2 Memories of Gondwana 37
3 Life in a Footprint 56
4 Penguins and Hormones 71
5 The Galaxies and the Plankton 93
6 The Bottom of the Bottom of the World 112
7 The Worm, the Fish, and the Seal 129
8 Visions of Ice and Sky 147
9 The Indifferent Eye of God 169
10 The Tern and the Whale 188
11 The Passing of the Leviathans 209
12 The Tempest 236
Appendix: Latin Names of Plants and Animals Mentioned in Text 253
Notes 261
References 282
Index 298
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