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Scott of the Antarctic: The Definitive Biography Paperback – 5 Jan 2012

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Product details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: HarperPress (5 Jan. 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007450443
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007450442
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 4.6 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 203,868 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

David Crane's first book, 'Lord Byron's Jackal' was published to great acclaim in 1998, and his second, 'The Kindness of Sisters' published in 2002, is a groundbreaking work of romantic biography. In 2005 the highly acclaimed 'Scott of the Antarctic' was published, followed by 'Men of War', a collection of 19th Century naval biographies, in 2009.
Crane lives in north-west Scotland.

Product Description


‘Many have trodden this path before but this is the masterpiece.’ Gildes Foden

‘Moving…a balanced and gripping account…David Crane has written a fine biography of Scott, the flawed but timeless hero, and I read it all with pleasure.’ Guardian

‘He [Crane] has freed himself from the tyranny of the card index to let Scott live again as a man.’ Daily Telegraph

‘Compelling…impressive…moving…’ Sunday Telegraph

‘Crane’s exhilarating biography avoids the excesses of either approach, humanising the man without diminishing his epic endeavour. As the end nears, Crane turns to the men’s dignified accounts of their ordeal. It is as Scott prophesied: no heart could remain unstirred.’ Observer

‘The most balanced biography yet. Like Scott’s own writings, Crane’s stylish prose is a sheer pleasure.’ New York Times

From the Author

Q and A with David Crane
How did you feel when you visited the Antarctic?
I was adamant that I didn’t go down to the Antarctic until I had been working on the book for a couple of years. I had been up to the Arctic the previous summer to get some experience of ice travel, but logistics and finance meant that the only way of getting to McMurdo Sound was courtesy of a Russian ice-breaker, which goes down twice a year as a cruise ship. It’s a curious mixture of unreconstructed Soviet technology and aesthetics with extraordinary five-star cuisine. It was wonderful in lots of ways but, at the same time, felt slightly obscene being down there on those terms. It’s a curious paradox – you’re going to what is probably the least-visited place in the world and you happen to be there on the same day as a hundred other people. And because you are also ruthlessly chaperoned every inch in case you go down a tiny crack in the ice, you end up thinking you could have had a more dangerous time in Oxford Street. I got slightly mutinous about the whole thing, which detracted from the pleasure of seeing the historic huts. Clearly they do touch people profoundly, but I was surprised to find that they didn’t move me in the way I had expected.

In terms of writing the book, though, I actually found the trip that three of us made to the Arctic much more useful. We flew up to the north of Baffin Island and just took off across the sea ice with skidoos and a sledge for four or five hundred miles, and if that hardly constitutes a Scott-like experience, it was a lot closer to it than a cruise ship and Viennese cooking in McMurdo Sound.
Scott said he never tired of the Antarctic landscape. Could you see what he meant?
Yes, Antarctic or Arctic, what is immensely impressive is the absence of any human scale by which to judge height or distance. It’s astonishing. No matter how many times you’ve read about it, you can’t grasp it until you realise you are looking at one mountain in one direction and another in the other and they might be 250 miles apart.

It’s also witlessly beautiful, if you see it under the right climatic conditions. It’s interesting that because of Ponting and Hurley we see the heroic age of polar expeditions in black and white, but actually it was the colour that seduced the explorers. The variations seem infinite. Hitting the pack for the first time is possibly the only boundary left on the planet – that absolute sense that you are entering a different world – and the colour is so exciting. I don’t think you could ever get blasé about that. What really impressed me about Scott, after I’d seen it for myself, was his ability to convey what an Antarctic landscape looked and felt like. He had this curious mixture of sensibility and scientific accuracy, which is so rare. Go up Observation Hill even now and you’ll see things through Scott’s eyes.
Did you in any way identify with Scott?
Absolutely not. I would rather saw off my foot than go to the South Pole. The only bits that don’t interest me are the bloody marches to the Pole – it’s one damn foot after another. On that Arctic journey I mentioned I was with two experienced sailors and it was fascinating to see at first hand just how essential all those skills I lacked are for survival on the ice. If I had been tempted by any kind of identification with Scott, a day with those sailors out on the ice was enough to make me realise that, if I was going to identify with anyone, it would have to be with the complete idiots who messed up everything. I went very badly snowblind for days and had to abandon my skidoo. I was brought back on one of their sledges in absolute agony. It was quite instructive in that sense. Ten minutes of that soon disabuses you of any vainglorious ideas that you might have been there with Scott and Shackleton, or that they might have wanted to have you.
What was the most moving moment in your research?
Oh, that’s a very easy answer. It was late in the afternoon at the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge. It was ten minutes before it closed and I knew I didn’t have time for a big file of letters so I asked to see Wilson’s prayer book. I gave whatever the catalogue number was and this folder arrived. In it was the volume given to Wilson by his wife. It had lain with his body until the search party found him and brought it back. It’s a small, black book with beautifully neat pencil marks in the faintest, smallest hand. There are Wilson’s notes and annotations, certain passages of the psalms underlined, and lines in the margin. It is one of those unbearable documents. It’s very, very moving. At the beginning he’s written – I can’t remember the exact words, but good Protestant theology – that because Christ has died for us there is nothing more we need to do. That is the faith in which he died and by which he lived. To have in your hand the physical evidence of that faith is wonderfully touching. The literature of polar exploration is so dominated by either the Boys’ Own angle or questions of science that this offers an important corrective. Wilson’s prayer book wakes you up to a different culture, a different world, a different concept of humanity.
I like the way your book is peppered with references to English literature. Was this a self-conscious decision or do they just crop up?
It’s utterly un-self-conscious. I don’t go looking for a literary parallel, but don’t seem to be able to avoid them. It makes me realise how much one mediates one’s apprehension of the outside world through literature. That seems, at least, to be how I think, though probably it’s just laziness. It’s interesting too, that you hear literary echoes with Scott all the time. Take his Voyage of the ‘Discovery’, when he’s talking about the last sight of their families in England as they say farewell. It’s a beautifully gradated passage, but you know damn well – whether he does or not – that it’s a Captain Harville talking in Persuasion that lies behind it. You can tell, in fact, from day to day what Scott’s reading, whether it’s Shakespeare or Wordsworth. Little phrases keep creeping through. In his love letters to Kathleen he talks of being in the suburbs of her love. This is either a memory of reading Julius Caesar when he was twelve or he has just re-read it. England’s literary tradition is clearly there in everything he writes.
If you were to meet Scott and could ask him one question, what would it be?
You know what they wrote when the news came of Shelley’s death? ‘Now the atheist Shelley knows whether or not there is a God.’ There must be some such big question one ought to be able to ask Scott. He said in his last letter to his wife that he regretted nothing, but I suppose I would like to ask him whether, if he’d known the cost – not to himself, but to the four men who died with him – would he have pushed on? I suspect the answer would be yes. There are two kinds of explorers: the one who comes back a day early and the other who pushes on a half-day more, and Scott distinctly belonged to the second category. He should have been all right too, but his luck was seriously out. It’s curious that the only sense you ever get of any foreboding is the way in which he seems to erase himself from his son’s future. Even before he’s reached the Antarctic, his letters have that tenor, as if he never actually sees himself as part of his son’s life. But I think once he was in the South his self-confidence returned. A supplementary question would be: ‘When did you first realise you weren’t going to get back?’ I suspect he knew early on the return journey from the Pole that things were going to be pretty parlous. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By John Hugh Stevens on 9 Oct. 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Since reading Roland Huntford's book, 'The Last Place on Earth.' I had lost respect for Scott, but reading this very unbiased book I have changed my opinion.
Scott was brought up in a different world to the likes of you and I. He really knew only one way and that was 'The Navy Way' The RN in his day was so utterly different to my days in the RN. The way he lived and served was to him quite normal. He was the Captain and what he said, thought and did was the way it would be. This was 'The English way. The Navy Way.' Where as Roald Amundsen went to live with and learn from the people who lived in those kind of conditions. He was willing to learn and be told, plus he never had the strait-laced attitude of the British Gentleman who could not bear the thought of killing the poor dogs who had worked for them.
"No Sir, we man haul our sledges like true British." Was Scott's attitude and it cost him his life.
He was a very brave and dedicated Naval Officer. He attracted such loyalty that no one felt it right to disagree with him. It is such a pity that he never knew of any other way of life. If he had and had listened and learnt from others of much more experience of survival in those awful cold and dangerous lands. I am sure the outcome would have been so very much different.

John Stevens. Royal Wootton Bassett
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By John Brain on 13 Jun. 2012
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Having read much about Scott and the 'Heroic Age', I came to this biography with some anticipation - and I was not disappointed. David Crane's account is based on meticulous and exhaustive research of primary sources, and must have been an epic labour of love in the making. He seeks not only to describe every aspect and event of Scott's life from a variety of perspectives, but he also investigates the context of Scott's early upbringing, and later his naval training, to shed more light on what made this remarkable man 'tick'.

And so we have an account of a man who achieved so much in his relatively short life - a man who despite his rather short temper - invoked fierce loyalty and admiration, even from those who on occasion had received the wrong end of his tongue.

Although Crane sets out to be objective, his account is anything but colourless and neutral. He emphasises Scott's many achievements, but also recognises the many over complexities of Scott's last journey which eventually led to his demise. Crane acknowledges Scott's perceived shortcomings but in the end reveals himself to be a biographer with an underlying sympathy for his subject - a sympathy based on the way Scott brilliantly produced a literary masterpiece in his account of his journeys. Who cannot but marvel on the sentiments Scott expressed in his diary during the last weeks of his life, as he lay in his tent, cold, hungry and done for, with no prospect of ever seeing again his wife and his young son Peter?

I have a few minor niggles with the book. Some passages, especially those which related to nineteenth century naval life, I thought held the narrative up - judicious editing might have shortened them. And I found the system of referencing sources cumbersome. But overall, the book certainly did justice to the great man Scott was and was a joy to read.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on 29 Mar. 2012
Format: Paperback
This is a beautifully written and researched book, which takes a more balanced view of Scott than the less than scholarly Fiennes biography. And Scott still emerges as a very sympathetic character, and much maligned.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Ms. Tarnia Matlock on 9 Jun. 2010
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A thoroughly good read. Picked it up Saturday Morning and barely put it down until I finished it Sunday Evening. The level of detail made it possible to imagine just what the team went through especially the Polar Party. You would have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by the last things that Scott and Wilson wrote at the end of their lives just a few miles from their next supply depot.Went on to read Cherry-Gerrard's The Worst Journey in the World.A fascinating subject.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By frankie5angels on 8 Oct. 2013
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This book should have been a rip roaring adventure. Instead it is written in a style that makes it stutter along, where the book becomes more important than the story it tells. The use of repetition by Mr. Crane becomes tedious even in the first few pages and the style never changes. I struggled to enjoy a story I was really looking forward to. It improves after the first couple of chapters and is very well researched and very well told, so I guess it's just the writing style I didn't like.
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21 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Jean Lesperance on 12 Oct. 2007
Format: Paperback
In passing judgement, one should not confuse the efforts of author Crane with those of explorer Scott. In the case of Crane he has done a marvelous job with copious material that allows one to take good measure of the subject Scott. This allows one to conclude as ever that Scott was a heroic failure, a man driven he believed towards success but whose destiny was inevitable given the constant extreme risks he took, the unforgiving harsh environment and his lack of knowledge and experience in that environment. The virtue of Crane is that, despite his desire to rescue Scott's reputation, the thoroughness of his research cements the conclusion to the contrary.

The dedicated but amateur Scott up against the meticulous professional Amundsen in the race to the pole? The outcome was no surprise. Again, it is to Crane's credit that he directly admits so in the text. That Scott's foolhardiness also killed other men, albeit their participation willing, is sufficient factual evidence to condemn his actions. Scott was, as the back cover of the book states, ''a superlative leader of men'', whose leadership brought them to their death. The numerous narrow escapes (e.g. the over-loaded Terra Nova was lucky to make it through to Antarctica in the first place - maybe Scott should have decided against bringing the champagne or the untested motorized sledges?) documented by Crane made it only a matter of time. Shackleton's record in keeping his team alive stands in harsh contrast.

The book is a pleasure to read. Its well-constructed prose flows easily page after page. Though I have read numerous other accounts and know the facts fairly well, Crane's account absorbed my attention. Curiously, I did not find it very emotional despite the romantic nature of Scott and his writing.
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