Apsley Cherry Garrard wrote the finest book ["The Worst Journey In The World"] ever to have come out of polar exploration. As a member of Scott's party on the 1911-12 expedition, Cherry Garrard was a witness and participant in the creation of a myth. He lived through events that have become lodged for all time in the consciousness of our country and our culture. His book is so important that, in turn, an account of his life is essential. Sara Wheeler's biography of Apsley Cherry Garrard is, I think, definitive.
Her grasp of polar exploration, past and present, is comprehensive. Her research began as preparation for her own time in Antarctica. She spent months traveling between the camps and research sites dotted about the continent, including a spell at the camp at the Pole. She returned to Antarctica the following year to spend weeks in a camp of her own [with another woman, a painter] as the Antarctic winter ended and the sun reappeared for another season.
Her first-hand appreciation of the conditions, the mentality, the motivations, the relationships, of Antarctic life lend an essential authenticity to her treatment of Cherry Garrard's account of his time with the 1911 expedition. It is clear that she has enormous affection for A. C.G. but this feeling for her subject does not in any way detract from the way she has presented this man's life. Her account of his life before and after the polar expedition is equally detailed and insightful.
The 1911 expedition and its outcome created a debate which continues to this day, including the nature of exploration, Scott as a man and as a leader, social and class issues then and now, colonialism, national consciousness, personal psychology under extreme conditions and much else. Sara Wheeler deals with all these issues lucidly and, I believe, in a most even-handed way. She has not shied away from the issues raised by the fierce revisionism of Roland Huntford, Ranulph Fiennes's specific repost to Huntford and others who have deconstruced the Scott-as-hero myth. She has dealt with these conflicting positions in a thoughtful and measured way.
Sara Wheeler's writing is a real pleasure to read. This account of a man's life is humorous without being flippant, detailed without being tedious and perceptive but without psychobabble. I believe this book is a credit to Sara Wheeler and a fitting tribute to Apsley Cherry Garrard. It deserves a place on anyone's shelf, right next to Cherry's own luminous book.