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An Empire of Ice: Scott, Shackleton, and the Heroic Age of Antarctic Science Hardcover – 3 Jun 2011

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (3 Jun 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300154089
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300154085
  • Product Dimensions: 15.6 x 2.7 x 23.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 607,506 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"An Empire of Ice reflects exhaustive digging and reaches well beyond the standard source materials... Larson provides enough fresh perspective that even devotees of polar literature will learn things."-Jennifer Kingson, New York Times Book Review -- Jennifer Kingson New York Times Book Review Awarded an Honorable Mention in the 2011 National Outdoor Book Awards -- National Outdoor Book Award Honorable Mention National Outdoor Book Foundation "A far more interesting and richer account than we have had thus far... Larson has written a fascinating book, one sure to force a rethinking of the Scott-Amundsen race as well as reconsiderations that will include science as a driving force in Antarctic and indeed polar exploration." -Vassiliki Betty Smocovitis, Science Magazine -- Vassiliki Betty Smocovitis Science Magazine "The author provides an undeniably exciting account without overpowering the reader with too much detail. Fans of these explorers, science heads, and armchair travelers will find this a worthwhile and thrilling read."-Mike Rogers, Library Journal -- Mike Rogers Library Journal "Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Larson sheds new light on the famous three-way race to the South Pole...A satisfying tale of adventure and exploration."-Kirkus Reviews Kirkus Reviews "Larson succeeds in this approach to the popular subject of polar exploration by wrapping the science in plenty of dangerous drama to keep readers engaged."-Booklist Booklist "Empire of Ice is a new take on polar exploration of the early 20th century. It puts expeditions by Amundsen, Scott, Shackleton et al. into a wider scientific, social and geopolitical context."-Travel Book Seller Travel Book Seller "... [An] enlightening and entertaining new book, An Empire of Ice, seeks to rescue the exploits of Edwardian derring-do from the condescension of posterity by showing us how much more there was to what his subtitle refers to as the heroic age of Antarctic science."-Robert J.Mayhew, Times Higher Education -- Robert J. Mayhew Times Higher Education "In this fascinating book...Larson's intriguing accounts begin to reveal the bigger picture of early scientific research in Antarctica and its place in European geopolitics of the time."-Michael Bravo, New Scientist -- Michael Bravo New Scientist "This is a great and needed book, highly worth reading whether your Antarctic focus is history or science."-The Antarctican Society Newsletter The Antarctican Society Newsletter "Extremely well written and documented, An Empire of Ice is a gripping account that reads almost like a thriller."-J.D. Ives, Choice -- J.D. Ives Choice "An insightful, accessible, enlightening account of an age when exploration 'reflected the values of the Edwardian age: fitness and science mattered.'"-Publishers Weekly Publishers Weekly

About the Author

Edward J. Larson is University Professor of History and holds the Hugh & Hazel Darling Chair in Law at Pepperdine University. His numerous books include Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America's Continuing Debate over Science and Religion, for which he received a Pulitzer Prize in History. Larson splits his time between Georgia and California.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Vinyl obsessive on 14 Jun 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Well crafted, and very well written, this book makes for a most interesting read and certainly offers an original line of thought that should appeal to the most jaded consumer of "heroic age" literature. Taking each broad area of scientific interest and endeavour in turn, Professor Larson provides, chapter by chapter, an easily digestible summary of the successive activities and achievements of the Discovery, Nimrod and Terra Nova expeditions, which didn't prove too dry or challenging for this 'non-scientific' reviewer. At the same time, the author introduces an appropriate level of the 'human interest' and conveys something of the personalities of the main protagonists without overburdening the reader with familiar details and storylines.

Just as the narrative is finding its feet, however, there is a strange and rather superfluous interlude, involving a ten-page examination of the activities of David Livingstone in Africa. This appears to have been included to help establish the credentials of the Royal Geographical Society, as the sponsor of Scott's first expedition, but it seems rather out of place and unnecessarily lengthy. An editorial blue pencil might have improved this part of the book. Moreover, having embarked on this diversion, Professor Larson has displayed a startling lack of appreciation of African geography, in describing (on page 68) how the Victorian explorer travelled 'east' across the Dark Continent to Angola, before 'retracing his steps' and following the Zambesi 'west' to Mozambique... It is to be hoped that a future reprint will also correct the description of Apsley Cherry-Garrard's trek to Cape Crozier as his "Western (sic, as opposed to 'Winter') Journey" (page 209).
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By Mr. Paul E. Harris on 23 Jun 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This was a good quality nicely illustrated present for a friend overseas and he was over the moon with this book.
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By Breakfast queen on 26 Mar 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Bought this for my husband and he enjoyed all the interesting facts contained in the book. Good price well packaged.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 11 reviews
31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
Dry technicals accounts 20 Jun 2011
By Marc Ranger - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I knew beforehand that I would be reading about "technical" accounts regarding Antarctica "Heroic" exploration period. It's not that the author is not knowledgable, but extensive history about embryos or Darwinism wasn't what I was looking for.

Every student of Antarctica's exploration knows that all British attemps at the South Pole was surrounded or pursued with extensive science programs. In fact, the gathering of data would save face if the true goal of the effort, standing at the South Pole, would fail. In that regard, Larson's account is a little too dry for my taste.

However, I did learn a thing or two that wasn't covered in other Antarctica books, such as Uncle Bill Wilson first attempt at Cape Crozier in the Discovery days.

I would definetly not recommend this book if it's the first one you pick up about Antarctica's Heroic Period. Read first "The worst journey in the world" by Cherry-Garrard, "The last place on earth" by Roland Hunford, "Race to the end" by Ross MacPhee or "The Coldest March" by Susan Solomon BEFORE picking up "An empire of ice" and ONLY if the how and why of science projects in Antarctica is highly valuable to you.
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
A Bit Disappointing 7 July 2011
By R. Albin - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This is a relatively short and well written but somewhat disappointing book. Larson appears to have 2 concerns in this book. The first is to provide a concise history of the scientific orientation of British Antarctic exploration prior to WWI. The second is to provide a more balanced view of Robert Scott as an explorer. Larson does a good job of explaining the general background of Victorian geographic exploration, pointing out its disparate motivations, including scientific curiosity, imperial rivalries, and some commercial interests. In the case of the Antarctic, the combination of scientific interests and national-imperial prestige appears to be particularly important. Larson does reasonably well in describing the scientific payoff from these expeditions, though planning and execution for some was affected by some tension between more professional British scientists and the more amateur tradition represented by the Royal Geographic Society.

In the case of Scott, Larson shows that pursuing science was an important component of his expeditions. This is in marked contrast to his Norwegian rival Amundsen, who singlemindedly pursued getting to the geographic South Pole. Scott's motivations also included more prosaic career advancement, concerns about national prestige, and what might be called the Edwardian cult of manliness. Larson definitely shows that Scott was not the naive romantic bumbler of present popular impressions, though in crucial respects Amundsen was clearly more competent.

Despite these positive features, I found this book somewhat disappointing. It is not up the standard of Larson's earlier books, particularly his very good book on the Scopes trial. The quality of writing is good but some of the chapters are a bit repetitious. His essential points about the nature of British scientific Antarctic exploration and Scott could have been made more concisely. This books reads like a long essay stretched out into a book.
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Pulitzer Prof pens Polar Peril 1 Jun 2011
By P. Johnson - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Numerous gripping accounts weave through this engrossing first-ever history of early South Pole science, the various -ologies researched in an alien land indeed (where week-long storms scour an ice sheet two miles thick, and the thermometer has plummeted to minus 129 degrees). Author Larson, for example, writes of how explorers Scott and Shackleton and their blizzard-suffering men observed the life cycle of the unique emperor penguin, discovered a retreating ice cap that fits with our view of global warming, and finally found fern fossils confirming Darwin's postulation that a connected polar continent likely existed to explain the presence of such fossils on other southern continents as well. That last major discovery occurred on Robert Scott's ill-fated South Pole journey, and poignant journal excerpts lace this retold drama. I wished for even more pictures. Two thumbs up!
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Not Quite What I Expected 25 Sep 2011
By A reader from California - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have always been fascinated by Antarctica, and was lucky enough to be able to visit there for three weeks some years ago, so I was looking forward to reading this book.

When I first read the reviews and blurbs, I thought the book was going to be an exploration of the leadership skills and styles of men like Scott and Shackleton. There was some of that, but mostly the book is an account of the scientific discoveries, told in excruciating detail.

Overall, their discoveries were interesting, but for me, reading 300 pages worth of the composition of icebergs vs. glaciers vs. ice caps vs. ice sheets, plus the difference between sandstone, basalt and other rocks, is a bit too much. My eyes started to glaze over.

The other problem, and this is not really Larson's fault, is that all the expeditions started to run together in my mind. They all had a hard time sledging, faced horrible weather conditions and ran out of food. It was difficult to tell them apart. I did not get a good sense of what the leaders did or did not do to impact the success or failure of each trip.

My recommendation is to read a book on Shackleton's Endurance mission, or his own book "South". Those will provide fascinating details about how the men survived, Shackleton's leadership style, etc., and are so much better than this book in invoking what these men endured from a personal standpoint. Unless you are a glaciologist or geologist, you will find this book very slow going, and in some cases, deadly dull.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Almost as good as Huntsford 16 July 2011
By specialK - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The Larson book is good, and I am enjoyed reading it. It provides interesting insights into the way European science and explorers interacted. In particular the contrast between the Geographical Society and the Philosophical Society. Having some experience with granting agencies and current state of science funding, this book provides nice historical background. The point of this book seems to be to present a slightly different point of view on the balance between finding the pole and science than that presented by Roland Huntsford in his books. The interested reader should compare this book to those, and go from there. The book isn't as compelling a read as the 'straight' explorer stories, but it is still good.
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