This is a pretty substantial book that starts in the 1770s and ends in 2012.
The 21 chapters are dated: 1770s, 1780-1820, 1821-1838, 1839-1843, 1843-1895, 1895-1906, 1907-1912, 1912-1918, 1919-1926, 1926-1928, 1929-1930, 1931-1933, 1934-1936, 1937-1938, 1939-1941, 1941-1945, 1945-1947, 1948-1951, 1952-1956, 1957-1960, 1961-2012.
I was slightly surprised that the last chapter covered 50 years when some of the other chapters only cover 2 years and if this is a true biography then I think recent happenings should have more coverage even if the historian might not want to come to definite conclusions about them.
David Day writes well and this is a handsome book.
I was appalled by the slaughter of the wildlife described in the earliest chapters - sickening, thoughtless and typical. It was also interesting to see for how long the UK and Argentina have been discussing the Falkland Islands.
Does this book have an Australian bent - I hope so, it is good to get other peoples perspective. Definitely worth a read.
This is a Biography, written in a very Biographical style. So it starts with the discovery (equivalent to the birth and a bit of the family background). Then there is an in depth portrayal of events until the present. More time and words are spent on the years where most "action" was happening.
My first criticism, this book desperately needed maps. In my edition there were just two, one a map of the world with Antartica missing altogether. The other a map of Antartica at some stage in its discovery, with the rough shape outlined, but when there was still obviously some doubt about all its features. Neither of these helped me make sense of the early chapters which endlessly mentioned new Islands or areas of coastline. For quite a large chunk of the book I quite simply had no idea where places mentioned were. For example: for most of the book I was not sure how the Falkland Islands related to the Falkland Island territories.
My second criticism is that this book was obviously written from one specific view point, and ignored the fact that readers might well be interested in others. That view point was that the key aspect about Antartica was determining who had territorial rights. So all Scientific enquiry is written off as just a "cover" for the territorial and exploration inroads into the continent. As a result there is a lot of detail of exactly how flags were placed on the continent (from manned landings and elaborate ceremonies to dropped from an airplane, to dropped from an airplane is a specially weighted container so that it would land up right). However there is very very little information on: the geology, the wildlife, changes in sea ice - especially why the sea ice might have been worse some years than others, or even if the continent does affect weather in Australia.
Thirdly, I was totally confused by names. Not only didn't I know where places were, or even if they had more than one name, or which name/s are used nowadays for a given site; but also there were far too many different explorers mentioned, and trying to even guess the nationality of some was difficult. For example, it was very hard to tell at times if someone referred to was: American or British or Australian or a New Zealander. Add to this that at least one Russian expedition was lead by someone with a Germanic name; lead to a lot of confusion. It would have been very helpful to have at least a table of names and their respective nationalities.
On the whole it didn't really convey the stories of Antartica very clearly, and was a rather dry Academic book. Good for a library maybe but not for a general reader.
However two things the book did convey very well. First the horrific slaughter of wildlife in the early years of Antartica's discovery. Second just why Captain Scott was so against using dogs on his race to the pole; he had been so affected by the slaughter of dogs on an earlier expedition that he couldn't bear to use them in that way again.
So I wouldn't recommend this book really to the person generally interested in Antartica, you may well find it doesn't tell you anything about the aspects you are interested in. However it is useful as a reference book, and if the rules of territorial claim interest you then this book may be the one for you.
This is a mega book, absolutely filled with information by someone who knows his stuff. At over 500 hundred pages and a small section of photographs you will be amazed by the activities that we mortal men and women get up to when exploring the unknown sections of our planet.
The books is in sections by time scale starting off in the 1770s thru to 2012, It's quite unusual for an author to have as much detail as this one produces, especially from a good long time ago. We start of with Captain Cook and his voyages which are fairly well known, though we will not have the detail that is now presented to us. As I said at the beginning of review, I was and still am astounded by the detail. The one thing that really comes over is that right from the beginning there are several main factors governing exploration, One to get more skins and oil from the animals in the sea and land and also to claim the territory for their own country allowing that country to have the rights to what is there, and for some the glory of finding a new land and the riches that go with that. I will add that as a race we humans seem to destroy what we find before we have the sense to try and conserve what is there. Political shenanigans are to the fore in the later voyages to Antarctica.
I would add that if anyone enjoys history, Politics, bravery, stupidity, Antarctica and has an interest in exploration and how we got to where we are at the present day you will enjoy this book.
This is an awe inspiring book about an incredible area of the planet. This book charts the history of the region from its discovery in the early 19th century to the present day.
It seems incredible that Antarctica wasn't actually reported as sighted until the early part of the 19th century. As Day states, Capt. Cook had postulated that there was a land mass there south of Australia and actually circumnavigated it without actually seeing it - so near and yet so far! Day then concentrates on the intrepid explorers who through numerous expeditions over the next 100+ years began to chart this vast area. Who actually sighted Antarctica first remains a bone of contention even today and three explorers have laid claim to that honour; A Russian, a Brit and an American. And whilst this isn't necessarily significant for the individual's concerned, it does have potential ramifications as territorial claims are made to various bits of this hugely significant continent. And for 110 years until the Antarctic Treaty came into effect in 1959 the territory was an area of conflict as seven nations fought over it almost coming to blows on several occasions. A lot of the narrative talks about the exploration that went on during this time but there are bits of the story that shows the diverse tactics that countries were prepared to go to legitimise their claims over the land; the so-called `Stamp Diplomacy' being one - setting up post-offices and issuing stamps, dropping little flags from aeroplanes being another and the mapping of the continent by the big three (UK, USSR & USA) as each sought to legitimise their claim to the region. The present day concentrates on the geo-politics of the area and the nations that want to exploit the natural resources that potentially exist under this vast but mostly untouched area. Now nations appear to be cooperating in scientific endeavour but Day appears to think that again this is just a way of making sure they've a foothold on the ice, particularly the Americans.
This is by no means an easy read. Day's writing style is academic and scholarly and at times you feel overwhelmed by the unceasing presentation of material to support his views, particularly that purpose of the book is that Australia should take more of an interest in the region and get involved in the scientific exploration of the area so that they can eventually be a player at the table when it comes to decisions being made about an area that is so close to them.
This is one I feel you would read only if you have an abiding interest in polar exploration, history of the polar regions and geo-political machinations of the super-powers. Otherwise its a hulking great extremely dry read.
Antarctica in the extreme south has always held a fascination for the Northern based British largely due to the story and indeed the myths surrounding Robert Falcon Scott.
Britain always loves a failure and Scott's was one of the classic in the stiff upper lip tradition but you would be wrong in the assumption that this book would have a massive section on Scott.
It is a 'biography' of a continent and as it had no indigenous population or rather human population the book focuses on man's exploration of that continent.
Day has written an informative and interesting book.
My namesake Captain James Cook was unlucky in not discovering Antarctica by a fluke,: he had sailed further south than any other expedition before.
I wonder if the world would have been a different place had Cook discovered the continent and claimed it for the British Crown- akin to Australia and New Zealand.
Although a great continent had been suspected hence Cook's Voyage it was not to be actually seen until 1820.
Instead Day has his story and what an exciting and adventurous story it is.
Indeed now we have Argentina, Australia, Britain, Chile, France, New Zealand and Norway all claiming a share. This of course provides and adds to the fascinating story of Antarctica.
The book `reads' well and is not half as dry as I dreaded it would be- indeed it is enjoyable.
The central set of photographs depict the major characters and adventurers well and I agree with a fellow reviewer that the map is an essential and constant point of reference.
I've long been interested in Antarctic exploration, having read everything I can lay my hands on about Shackleton's "Endurance" expedition and Scott's last journey. It was a surprise to find so little on these in this book, but that's just an example of the incredible discipline of the author. Keeping to a standard chapter length and a time slot for each chapter, he inexorably chips away at the history of Antarctic exploration.
I found the enduring arguments about ownership of the continent very tedious - which is probably more of a criticism of generations of politicians rather than the author. This was made worse by the absence of useful maps. The 2 maps printed on the inside covers of the book are of historical interest only - a world map without Antarctica on it all, because it hadn't been discovered then and another early 19th century one which only reflects a very short time period of the book and has such small print that a powerful magnifying-glass would be required. A link to a website of detailed maps for each period studied would have been a good accompaniment.
The narrative itself is very engaging, mostly a very smooth and clear read. I found the concern for the seals and whales tiresomely repetitive without anything being added with each repetition, beyond reminding me that there was a lot of hunting. It would have been difficult to add much more within the date-defined structure of the book; I probably need to turn elsewhere to get an overview of the issue rather than the snapshots provided here.
All in all, a good general introduction to the Antarctic and its history - a good addition to the library.
"Day weaves a masterly tale of expeditions and their leaders in this hugely detailed and well-researched tome". So says the Amazon blurb on this weighty volume from one of the doyens of the Australian history profession David Day. "Antarctica a biography" (the clue is in the title) is a tale of expeditions, explorers and ego manics. It has it many sound and solid merits, but it also feels rather a like a football match where all the real action occurs in the first half. Indeed as another reviewer on this books rightly observes "the 49 years from 1912 to 1960 take up 341 pages" and frankly it can all be a bit of a cold slog. There are however real merits here. Inevitably the chapters on the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration and its main proponents of Shackleton, Scott and Amundsen. This part of the book predictably offers the most excitement and insight. Day's view for instance that it was "Scotts death that captured the public excitement in a way that the deeds of (Shackleton and Amundsen) could not" shows the poer of the Scott legend which has waxed and waned for many years. Yet those troubling questions remain whether his expedition had produced martyrs not to science and endeavour but to his incompetence and vanity? Not least of all his stubborn refusal to use dogs to pull sledges been an incaluble mistake which almost doomed his expedition from the outset? Day infuses this debate with some nice narrative not least the fact that both Scott and Amundsen actually both missed the South Pole by a kilometre or two "due to the difficulties of taking accurate sightings at the apex of the earth". The Shackleton story which follows all this in relation to the "Endurance" is of course even more remarkable and without telling it once again you marvel why anyone would buy one of those horrible current books on management and leadership when the example of the great Sir Ernest really says it all in terms of teamwork.
Day's biography predominantly focuses on the history of human engagement with the continent although it it also examines in depth the geo political situation. By the end of World War II, Antarctica had been subject to claim by seven countries - Argentina, Australia, Britain, Chile, France, New Zealand and Norway - this despite American attempts through explorers Lincoln Ellsworth and Richard E. Byrd to make it a firm part of the good old USA in the decade of the 1930's. That said the book is not that forthcoming scientific value of this stunning landscape, similarly when it reaches conclusions that the continents "dangers and its terrors have been largely conquered" you do worry whether Day has been hitting the gin in a big way. Equally the valiant work of Greenpeace in the region receives rather scant treatment not least the campaign to make the region a "World Park" and their persistent role in terms of stressing that Antarctica should be preserved as a global commons - belonging to none. Day's argument concentrates more heavily on the real-politic impact that the Antarctic Treaty of 1961 has played in terms of a rigorous role in safeguarding peace on the continent, while serving "as an example of cooperation" that the rest of the world might heed. This is a fair observation but cannot distract from the fact that Antarctic competition has largely moved into arguments around economic rather than strategic imperatives, with the Continents high-value natural resource deposits and, to a lesser but more bloody extent, ocean stocks such as whales still being exploited not least the through so called "Research whaling" by the Japanese (the good news is that 2013 has seen Japanese whalers return from Antarctic waters with a record-low catch not least as result of the work of the Australian Environmentalist group Sea Shepherd)
Overall then Day's biography is a good book in terms of the history of Antarctic expeditions and the construction of various treaties to protect this magnificent continent. As a book to read nonetheless it is often slow and not helped by a index which misses out the Chapter titles which makes referencing very difficult. This reviewer suspects that there are better introductory texts on this great continent and any recommendations would be recieved with glee
Everybody has some knowledge of Antarctica, even if it is limited to the Scott-Amundsen race for the South Pole or Shackleton's epic survival voyage. Anyone struggling through the huge volume of information in David Day's `Antarctica: A Biography' will find little new on these well covered instances, but from Captain James Cook's voyages in the late 18th century they will get an outstanding overview of Antarctic events in chronological order plotting explorations, discoveries and assertions up to the date of publication in 2012. Content is exceptional, yet even at 600 pages it is not practicable for the author to embrace every detail - but it is a brave attempt.
`Antarctica: A Biography' is a huge scholarly piece of work by the well respected and award winning author-historian David Day who has conducted detailed primary and secondary research in institutions and archives throughout the world plus accessing a wide range of journals, reports, correspondence etc. His exhaustive `Endnotes', indicative `Select Bibliography' and comprehensive `Index' endorse the thoroughness of the author's endeavours. The result is a demanding read, but apart from sheer volume and some repetition it is written in a straightforward manner with a touch of journalese including strange words like "eventuated" or "farewelling" and sentences such as "America's Antarctic effort was dead ... the circus continued regardless". This lightens efforts by readers, and also this approach works well in describing the shenanigans of polar politics. The author exposes rivalries with claims and counterclaims leading to the Antarctic Treaty of 1959. Hopefully this will succeed in freezing of territorial claims, and perhaps the author's speedy treatment of the last chapter 1961-2012 is an indicator of a calmer and more cooperative approach to the contested continent.
For me I appreciated most the chapter 1907-1912 as this period was best known to me and it gives an excellent summary of key events leading to success in reaching the South Pole, but I was then disturbed at the politicking that went on in the years after the Pole achievement. For the bulk of the book it may be of surprise for readers like me with a limited background to realise how much rivalry and antagonism was involved with planting of flags, declaring sovereignty, allocating names, etc. and even issuing postage stamps to bolster assertions and support actions to gain control of the continent or particular parts. Claims are based on original sightings and mapping, and then landings, journeys and scientific input. Always there were ulterior motives, and I felt these aspects overshadowed the heroics of explorers. Everyone is in on the act - Europeans, Australia and New Zealand, Americans, Russians, Japanese etc. and of course Argentina and Chile.
There is a strange collection of glossy illustrations adding little to the narrative, yet the book would be much improved if maps could be incorporated to show routes of different expeditions, various discoveries, territorial acquisitions etc. Coloured endpapers are beautiful but the small scale makes them difficult to see. Ongoing complexities of the final chapter confirm `Antarctica: A Biography' as a multi-layered piece of work with a whole gamut of subjects - incorporating national interests, diplomatic issues, commercial dealings, scientific discoveries, environmental circumstances and personal differences - and within all these are interwoven stories of man against the elements. For me inclusion of `Biography' in the title is somewhat misleading with chapters focussing largely on historical commentary, and I felt it left biographical detail of heroic individuals less relevant than their political circumstances. However there is no doubting the book's comprehensive coverage, and those wanting more should proceed to the `Selected Bibliography'.
There are lots of books about Antarctic history.
Early days are covered in books such as Below the Convergence: Voyages Toward Antarctica, 1699-1839. The heroic age has tens or hundreds of stories about Scott, Shackleton and Amundsen and virtually every one who went with them. Later history has to a fairly light scattering of expeditions and modern day stories such as Terra Incognita: Travels in Antarctica
There is little that includes the whole span from 1770s to modern day - but of course this is what you would expect 'Antarctica - A Biography' to cover. It's in-chronological-order coverage has 523 pages of text (including the Epilogue) with 60 plus pages of Endnotes and seven pages of bibliography (should you need to read further) and 12 pages of photographs (mainly of expeditions), so comprehensive is the least you could say of it.
There are no maps, which might have been an aid to finding some of the more obscure places mentioned. What you get is less about the heroics or arrangements of the various expeditions but much more about the politics of the attempted land grab that went on over the centuries and the sometimes undignified actions of a number of nations to oust each other from their territorial claims. It also tells the difficulty of agreeing who was first to 'discover' the continent and to land there. The last chapter is about the settling by scientists and the protection by the Antarctic Treaty System.
In all this was an enjoyable, well written book, which puts Antarctica in a historical and political context. It is something you could dip into if interested in one particular time or story, but I think it is much better read from cover to cover to understand the full circumstances of some of the more outrageous international squabbling that the discovery and 'colonisation' of Antarctica has engendered.
I've had a great interest in Earth's most mysterious continent for as long as I can remember, so couldn't resist treating myself to this weighty tome, courtesy of the ever splendid Amazon Vine programme. In fact, this is the second book on this subject I've ordered through Vine, the previous one being the far more lightweight and slightly haphazard (but still enjoyable) "Lost Antarctica".
So, what does "Antarctica: A Biography" give you? The 600+ pages are structured in a logical chronological sequence, covering the pioneering expeditions to Antarctica and the underlying politics that often inspired them. In fact, the amount of politics contained herein (as has been alluded to by other reviewers) and the author's thinly disguised views on them is really my only criticism, as I found it tended to detract occasionally from the courage and intrepid spirit of the early adventurers. Slightly disappointingly, there are only a handful of photographs, but they are well chosen and of obvious historical interest. As one other reviewer pointed out, I too would have appreciated a few maps to illustrate the routes of missions and territorial claims etc. Instead, all we get is a colour but extremely small-scale map of Antarctica and nearby countries, on the inside back cover.
Perhaps the book's greatest asset is its meticulous indexing. Thus, if the reader feels daunted by ploughing through the book from start to finish , they can easily home in on the sections pertinent to Scott, Amundsen, wildlife etc.
Minor criticisms aside, this is a very attractive work that covers pretty well everything you are every likely to want to know about the discovery and gradual exploration of Antarctica and how the human endeavor is inseparable from the politics, which remain very much a factor today.