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Mawson: A Life Paperback – 15 Oct 2003

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Product details

  • Paperback: 392 pages
  • Publisher: Melbourne University Press (15 Oct 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0522850782
  • ISBN-13: 978-0522850789
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.9 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 3,441,295 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover
Having read other books on early antarctic exploration, I find this one gives a very detailed insight into the nature of getting an expedition together, co-ordinating the funds, the crew and the work. Ayres has researched thoroughly and widely and sourced the diaries of Mawson's crew and supporters. It reveals individual struggle, anguish and character needed for such a life. A very good and enlightening read about Mawson and his life but also about his relationship with his men, his funders and with Shackleton.
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By RMCT on 28 April 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Mawson was another polar pioneer in the great age of exploration, and yet his fame seems to have been lost in some way to the greater public renown of Scott and Shackleton. Ayres has done an excellent job of taking the reader through Mawson's life, highlighting not only his polar achievements and success in exploration, but also the true nature of mawson and what drove him. Clearly not a man in quite the same mould as Scott and Shackleton. His main focus being scientific discovery rather than fame. Having said that he was clearly comfortable living in a world of celebrity and mixed in high circles.

I think Ayres has done a great job in giving an undertsanding of the man and his achievements and would recommend anyone interested in Mawson, and the Edwardian age of polar exploration, to read this book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Extraordinary adventure, somewhat buried under an otherwise mundane life 6 Aug 2010
By M. Bailey - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Sir Douglas Mawson (1882-1958) was the first of the great Australian Antarctic explorers. A geologist and professor by trade, he alternated trips to Antarctica with surveying New Hebrides (now Vanuatu) and writing a major work on its geology, locating deposits of minerals with radioactive properties, and proving and dating Australia's glacial history. Through his connections with geologist Sir Edgeworth David, Mawson expanded his interest in glaciation by making the acquaintance of Ernest Shackleton and joining his 1908-09 Antarctic voyage as physicist. He was subsequently invited to join Captain Robert Scott's (ill-fated) South Pole sledging group, but instead he approached Shackleton for help raising funds for an expedition of his own. This Australasian Antarctic Expedition (1911-1913), the trip for which he is most well-known and was knighted, is described below. Between 1929 and 1931 Mawson led two other voyages, known collectively as The British Australian (and) New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition (BANZARE), and he was involved with Australian and Antarctic exploration policy until shortly before his death.

In Dec 1911, Mawson and his team set out for Antarctica and proceeded to set up base camp at Commonwealth Bay and do preliminary meteorological and geological studies. It was unknown at the time that this part of Australia was one of the windiest spots on earth. In November 1912, with spring coming on, the team split into several groups, planning to meet back at camp on January 15th for rendezvous with the ship. Mawson and his two companions, Xavier Mertz and Lieutenant Belgrave Ninnis, set out with dogs and sledges to explore inland along the coast. On December 14th, 315 miles from camp, Ninnis, the main sledge, and the best dogs disappeared into a crevasse. On the sledge were the tent and most of the food and spare clothing. Unable to see, hear, or reach Ninnis, Mawson and Mertz turned back to base, with 10 days of rations, six weak dogs, and a second sledge. They ate the dogs to replace the lost food supply, but they were able to travel only a few miles a day as Mertz sickened and, on January 7th, died. Alone, with few supplies and still a hundred miles to travel through blizzards and ice fields, Mawson fought on, despite frostbite, sloughing skin, and a fall down a crevasse from which only his sledge harness gave him a chance to climb out during the next few hours. He arrived back at base camp on February 8th, only to find that the ship had departed that morning. The captain had, however, left 6 men to stay for the winter and hopefully find Mawson, Mertz and Ninnis, and they nursed him back to health while waiting for spring and a ride back to Australia in December 1913.

Mawson's extraordinary journey has been described in several books, two of which he wrote himself, with photos by the legendary Antarctic photographer Frank Hurley, who was in the larger party. It is a nail-biting tale, even knowing the end. Mawson's life as a whole, however, is much less interesting, so the biographer had a choice: use Mawson's life as a frame for the 1911-1913 expedition, or give a measured, even look at the life as a whole. Unfortunately, Ayres choice the latter approach, and large sections of the book are very dull. The author had access to the massive Mawson archives of research, notes, diaries, and correspondence, and he seems to have had trouble glossing over the minutiae, such as guest lists and side interests. On the other hand, he does attempt to unsentimentally judge Mawson's contributions to Australian science and his relationships with other greats of the period. Apparently Mawson could be unfair and hold a grudge just like regular folk, and he held himself somewhat aloof from others on his expeditions.

This biography will be of interest primarily to Mawson fans (myself included) who want to know everything about him. General readers will do better with "Home of the Blizzard" or "Mawson's Will" to read about this man's extraordinary response to the tragedy which befell his team.
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