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Scott And Amundsen: The Last Place on Earth [Paperback]

Roland Huntford
3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)
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Book Description

7 Dec 2000

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the South Pole was the most coveted prize in the fiercely nationalistic modern age of exploration. In the brilliant dual biography, the award-winning writer Roland Huntford re-examines every detail of the great race to the South Pole between Britain's Robert Scott and Norway's Roald Amundsen. Scott, who dies along with four of his men only eleven miles from his next cache of supplies, became Britain's beloved failure, while Amundsen, who not only beat Scott to the Pole but returned alive, was largely forgotten. This account of their race is a gripping, highly readable history that captures the driving ambitions of the era and the complex, often deeply flawed men who were charged with carrying them out.

THE LAST PLACE ON EARTH is the first of Huntford's masterly trilogy of polar biographies. It is also the only work on the subject in the English language based on the original Norwegian sources, to which Huntford returned to revise and update this edition.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 624 pages
  • Publisher: Abacus (7 Dec 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0349113955
  • ISBN-13: 978-0349113951
  • Product Dimensions: 12.6 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 320,398 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

On December 14, 1911, the classical age of Polar exploration ended when Norway's Roald Amundsen conquered the South Pole. His competitor for the prize, Britain's Robert Scott, arrived one month later--but died on the return with four of his men only 11 miles from their next cache of supplies. But it was Scott, ironically, who became the legend, Britain's heroic failure, "a monument to sheer ambition and bull-headed persistence. His achievement was to perpetuate the romantic myth of the explorer as martyr, and... to glorify suffering and self- sacrifice as ends in themselves."

Last Place On Earth is a complex and fascinating account of the race for this last great terrestrial goal. It is also biographer Ronald Huntford's rather heavy-handed attempt to restore Amundsen to glory. Though this was the age of the amateur explorer, Amundsen was a professional: he left little to chance, apprenticed with Eskimos and obsessed over every detail. While Scott clung fast to the British rule of "No skis, no dogs", Amundsen understood that both were vital to survival and they clearly won him the Pole.

Amundsen in Huntford's view is the "last great Viking" and Scott his bungling opposite: "stupid... recklessly incompetent", and irresponsible in the extreme--failings that cost him and his teammates their lives. Yet for all of Scott's real or exaggerated faults, he understood far better than Amundsen the power of a well-crafted sentence. Scott's diaries were recovered and widely published, and if the world insisted on lionising Scott, it was partly because he told a better story. Huntford's bias aside, it's clear that both Scott and Amundsen were valiant and deeply flawed. "Scott... had set out to be an heroic example. Amundsen merely wanted to be first at the pole. Both had their prayers answered." --Svenja Soldovieri --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.


In 600 wonderfully researched pages ... Huntford has at last written the 3-dimensional book this immense drama deserves (SPECTATOR)

Gripping ...enthralling ...Handles a great mass of material with exceptional intelligence and skill (SUNDAY TELEGRAPH)

A brilliant achievement, as readable as an adventure story, as fact filled as an explorer's manual, as compelling as history always is when brought to life (TORONTO STAR 'One of the great debunking biographies')

NEW YORK TIMES (On December 14, 1911, the classical age of Polar exploration ended when Norway's Roald Amundsen conquered the South Pole. His competitor for the prize, Britain's Robert Scott, arrived one month later--but died on the return with four of his men only 11 mi)

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On the morning of November 1st, 1911, a little cavalcade left Cape Evans in the Antarctic, straggled over the sea ice and faded into the lonely wastes ahead. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Huntford v Diaries 25 Feb 2012
This is a great story and Huntford manages to work up the excitement of a unique explorers' race. Amundsen is depicted as a ruthless realist only after the glory of being first. His know-how, leadership and meticulous preparation bring victory. Scott is portrayed as a hopless amateur, poor leader and as responsible for needlessly killing himself and his men. Huntford litters his story with diary extracts and seemingly achieves authenticity. The truth wins out!
Alas, just as Huntford criticises Scott for selective diary re-touches, this is exactly what Huntford himself is guilty of. Left thoroughly convinced of the integrity of this book I went on to read the diaries of three men who were actually there: Scott himself, Evans the second in command and Ponting the photographer. Whilst it is true that following the death of Scott one would expect the two latter would tone down criticism of their former leader, these three original sources completely discount many of Huntfod's claims and clearly demonstrate that Huntford has rather cleverly selected material, omitted facts and misinterpreted events in order to make his theories fit reality. This book is a very good read but an accurate picture of Scott's final expedition it is not. R.Fiennes' 'Captain Scott' also methodically rips to shreds Huntford's spurious claims with concrete facts and written evidence from all concerned with the expedition and is throughly recommended for a much more balanced assesment of Scott.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A gripping, but astonishingly one-sided account 12 Jan 2011
By Jimmy C
The other reviews some this book up well. When I bought it, I was well aware that it would be an anti-Scott account of his life. I was taken aback by how one-sided and vitriolic it was. Barely a paragraph goes past without Huntford giving Scott a kicking in some way, construing the tiniest detail to be another example of a character-failing on the part of Scott. It can get a little tiring after a while. What's more, I feel sometimes Huntford fails to give enough evidence at times - talking about Scott being passed over for promotion when all of his colleagues were progressing - but he failed to give examples and names of these colleagues.

All of that said, I couldn't put it down. The 'attitude' of the author is rather amusing, since it's written which such spite that one can only assume that Scott's family in some way cheated Huntford out of an inheritance or systematically bullied an ancestor in some way. It's like watching one half of a blazing row.

The other thing to point out is that other biographies - and hagiographies - are available. If this were the only book on Scott, it would be a tragedy, but it isn't. In the canon of work on the man, it's useful to have someone build a strong case against. I plan to read another biography of Scott for balance, but I'm glad Huntford went out of his way to compile this vicious account.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Erudite journalese 6 Jan 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I have been meaning to read 'Scott and Amundsen' (The Last Place on Earth) for some time, and have finally got round to it. And I have to say, that despite all its innaccuracies, omissions and one-sided appraisal, I enjoyed it as a book. I found it well written and researched.

It is however written by a journalist and its writing style is more reminiscent of a popular newspaper, than even-handed research. However it should be remembered that it was first published in 1979. At that time, Robert Falcon Scott's achievement in reaching the South Pole in 1912 was still being viewed relatively uncritically. And Amundsen's achievement was relatively unheralded. Huntford was the first to seriously challenge the received wisdom of the Scott/Amundsen expeditions to the Pole. He clearly started with a view that Scott was an inept bungler and by contrast Amundsen was a supremely competent polar explorer, and he set about to put the record straight, as he saw it. In doing so, he went to great lengths to castigate Scott's planning, his methods and his character by means of selective assertions, at every opportunity. So much so, that I as a reader became irritated at the constant repetition. I was less concerned about his views on Amundsen, who I would agree was a great man whose multiple achievements have not always received the acclaim they richly deserve. But even there, Huntford deploys the journalistic style of conveniently omitting any evidence which runs counter to his central assertion. And he virtually invents some of Scott's motivations. And though Huntford certainly went to great lengths to research his material, I was somewhat disappointed that he omitted specific references to his sources.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gift for my father 30 July 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
My father is a reader of history and he loved this book, and has added it to his collection of historical works. I would recommend this book to any one who is a serious historian.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Deeply flawed but very readable 11 Jan 2010
It feels a bit odd to give a two-star review to a book that is in many respects well written and for the most part an enjoyable read. The trouble here is Huntford's obvious dislike for Scott which, as the pages go by seems to grow and expand to near hysterical proportions. Certainly Scott was a flawed character - aren't we all? - but he was also very much a product of his times, generally well regarded and respected by his men (Shackleton a notable exception) and deserves a better and more balanced biography (and biographer) than what is served up here.

I have travelled to Antarctica many times myself, been to the South Pole and am deeply interested in the story and the continent itself. Huntford is clearly a very good writer - his biography of Shackleton (written some years after this book, when he had matured more as a writer and person) is wonderful. This one too is entertaining, until his personal biases and antipathy to Scott become too annoying. It is one thing to write an iconoclastic biography, fair enough, but honestly this descends almost to parody, and by the end his non-stop harping about Scott's every single action or thought ultimately leads you to question and begin to doubt much of what was probably some pretty good research. He needed a strong editor who knew something about the topic, to rein him in. An excellent and thoughtful counterpoint to this harangue is Susan Solomon's book The Coldest March. Written by a scientist with much experience in Antarctica and the South Pole (places Huntford had never been when he wrote this book) and backed by decades of hard climate data she reveals that Scott was not quite the nincompoop Huntford would have us believe, and that his (and his men's) Byronic death was due at least as much to an unusually severe conditions as his arch-Victorian hubris.

An entertaining read, but there are better around.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Very One Sided
I have to admit that I quite enjoyed reading this book. It really is a fast paced and entertaining read. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Nico
1.0 out of 5 stars Factually incorrect, what more needs to be said?
This book is frustratingly poor. Huntford clearly decided to distort the truth, and in many cases, completely make things up in order to bring something new to the Scott-Amundsen... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Luke Nunn
4.0 out of 5 stars A very good and detailed book.
I believe Mr Huntford has done extensive research, which is worthy of praise. He tells the story of both explorers, emphasizing on points which would later be of importance in... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Argyris Periferakis
5.0 out of 5 stars Well researched and a pleasure to read
At the time of publishing this book in 1979, there was an injunction taken out to ban the book indefinitely. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Casper in London
5.0 out of 5 stars Exceptional
I do so love a myth-busting book. This is a no holds barred account of the lives of Scott and Amundsen with particular attention to their race to the South Pole. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Mr Gordon Davidson
1.0 out of 5 stars Stealing A Dead Man's Laurels
This is a despicable attempt to take a dead man's laurels. It seeks to profit from a mis-telling of the great deeds of a better man than the author. Read more
Published 15 months ago by John Locke
2.0 out of 5 stars A missed opportunity by Huntford...a fool...
As a kid I heard of Scott, as did many kids, my imagination did the rest without any understanding of what it was all about. Read more
Published 16 months ago by zoooming
2.0 out of 5 stars The one man race to the pole
This book becomes very tiresome after a while when in page after page the author maintains that Scott can do no right and Amundsen can do no wrong. Read more
Published 17 months ago by Watcher
5.0 out of 5 stars Huntford tells the true tale, but some myths just never seem to want...
The controversy over this book is ongoing, and often vitriolic, even though it has been around for quite some time now. Read more
Published 23 months ago by Alfredo Hamill
1.0 out of 5 stars Why did he write this book?
It might be readable and quite exciting, and given the fact that it is about attempts to be the first to reach one of the most desolate places on the planet, one would indeed hope... Read more
Published on 9 July 2012 by Gretallotttie
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