Rosove stays modestly in the background and lets his explorers, who were often excellent prose stylists, speak for themselves. He quotes judiciously from diaries, ships' logs and published accounts of journeys so desperate that explorers ended up eating the rawhide lashings of their sleds, as well as their sled dogs (whose livers contained so much vitamin A that the Australian, Douglas Mawson nearly died of hypervitaminosis, and had to watch as the skin sloughed off his feet in damp shreds). "Here is the sanctuary of sanctuaries, where Nature reveals herself in all her formidable power," wrote one explorer, Jean-Baptiste Charcot. "The man who penetrates his way into these regions feels his soul uplifted." Behind the somewhat mawkish title, lie astonishing feats of bravery, endurance and resourcefulness that make the exploits of modern astronauts seem almost routine. Indeed the parallels between the Antarctic and outer space are eerily similar, with the icebergs resembling asteroid belts that could shatter a ship's hull in a moment, condemning all aboard to death, beyond any hope of rescue. Two of the ships used were actually named Discovery and Challenger. In 1773 the continent was first glimpsed by the British explorer, James Cook, who fully recognized the dangers of the ice: "Surrounded on every side with danger, it was natural for us to wish for day-light. This when it came, served only to increase our apprehensions, by exhibiting to our view, those huge mountains of ice, which in the night, we had passed without seeing." Cook beat a retreat and predicted that "no man will ever venture farther than I have done; and that the lands which may lie to the South will never be explored..." Cook was wrong, of course, but the effort of exploring Antarctica took almost superhuman courage. The explorers came on ships with names like the Erebus, the Terror, the Fram, the Pourquoi Pas?, L'Astrolabe, the Resolution, the Relief and the Aurora. They climbed mountains and volcanoes. They advanced gingerly over chasms spanned by treacherous snow-bridges. They drank snowmelt mixed with dog's blood and slept in caves carved out of ice. They froze to death, starved to death or fell to their deaths in crevasses hundreds of feet deep. They returned to glory, or to oblivion, changed forever by their sojourns on the frozen tip of the planet. Rosove includes the big names like Robert Scott, Roald Amundsen and Ernest Shackleton. But he goes well beyond these giants and includes 20 more explorers, people like James Clark Ross, for whom the Ross Ice Shelf is named; Jean-Baptiste Charcot, who joked that the Antarctic was one place where you never needed to worry that you left your umbrella at home, as it never rained; and Wilhelm Filchner, a German explorer who adapted the auxiliary engine of his ship, the Bjorn, so that its boiler could run off seal blubber and whole penguins, which were flung into the furnace like cordwood (already dead, one hopes). There is a first-day-of-creation quality to the book. We look on as a great region, whose entire existence was unknown 228 years ago, gradually enters the sphere of human knowledge, and is intellectually assimilated, mapped and named. Beyond the people-names, like the Weddell Sea, the Bellingshausen Sea and the Adelie penguin (affectionately named by French explorer Jules S.-C. Dumont d'Urville after his wife), we visit Cape Disappointment, the Danger Islands, Port Circumcision, Deception Island and the Drygalski Ice Tongue. Behind each name lies a curious story, an amusing anecdote, or a history of horror. Over all looms the spell of the continent. "Great God! this is an awful place...!" exclaimed the crestfallen Robert Falcon Scott, who fought his way to the South Pole in 1912, only to find that Roald Amundsen had beaten him by a few days. Scott went on foot. Amundsen used dogs and, when he reached the Pole, shot 24 of them and used them for food on the return trip. Scott never made it back. Others were awestruck by the region's beauty. A member of Shackleton's expedition marveled at the walls of a thousand-foot-wide crevasse, which "were splintered and crumpled, glittering in the sunlight with a million sparklets of light. Towering above were titanic blocks of carven ice. The whole was the wildest, maddest and yet the grandest thing imaginable." The place could drive people insane, or nearly. Scott's decision to pull his sleds with horses and manpower, instead of dogs, proved suicidal. Shackleton spoke of an eery "fourth presence" that seemed to guide his party of three across the mountains and glaciers of South Georgia. He refused to elaborate. "The utter desolation, the awesome, unearthly silence pervading the whole landscape - all this combines to form a scene which is worth many a sacrifice to behold for once, although living alone in such surroundings would undoubtedly end in speedy madness," wrote Henryk Johan Bull, after reaching Antarctica in 1894. Rosove keeps a cool head, writing about this cold, unmooring place. In "Let Heroes Speak" Rosove approaches each story methodically. He gives us the names of all the expedition members, with a bit of background on each. He often follows them beyond the Antarctic into later life, with fascinating results -- Ross, the hero of the great ice shelf, died a recluse and a drunk. Each journey's preparations are described meticulously, the outfitting, the provisions, the stores, the ship. Rosove is precise about dates and geography. The maps at the back are clear and useful. This is consequently a lucid, useful reference book on the Antarctic that reads like an exciting collection of short stories.