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Scott's Men [Hardcover]

David Thomson


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Book Description

Jun 1977
Between the middle of January and the end of March 1912 five men died in the attempt to return from the South Pole to their base on the edge of Antarctica. Their leader, the last to die and the man whose diary described their agonies was Robert Falcon Scott. The expedition had been beaten to the Pole by a band of racing Norwegians, led by Roald Amundsen. The bodies of the last three to die were found seven months later and, ever since, Scott's men have been British heroes. It is that legend, as much as their ordeal that is the subject of this book. Scott's men and the supporting characters, Amundsen and Shackleton, his rivals; Clement Markham, his discoverer; his wife Kathleen—give a fascinating picture of English society before the First World War. The story of the drama becomes also an illustration of human and social character. And, to the extent that Scott is legendary in England, the book tells something about the English and their attitude to duty. "When Thomson writes a book, it is time for celebration."—Booklist " "Thomson is an expert: an expert storyteller, critic, thinker, investigator and observer of the all-too-human landscape."—Steven Bach
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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More About the Author

English-American writer David Thomson was educated at Dulwich College and the London School of Film Technique. After seven years at Penguin Books, he became a Director of Film Studies at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire between 1977 and 1981. Perhaps best known for his magisterial Biographical Dictionary of Film, Thomson is a prolific writer on film including biographies of David O Selznick and Orson Welles, and two books on Hollywood: Beneath Mulholland: Thoughts on Hollywood and Its Ghosts and The Whole Equation: A History of Hollywood. Thomson lives in San Fransisco with his wife and two sons.

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About the Author

David Thomson is the author of A Biographical Dictionary of Film and many other books including Showman: The Life of David O. Selznick, Rosebud: The Story of Orson Welles, and In Nevada. He lives in San Francisco. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Amazon.com: 3.8 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "...the only appalling possibility the sight of the Norwegian flag forestalling ours"---Robert Falcon Scott 12 Nov 2007
By mwreview - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
There are many books on the race to the South Pole. Thomson's book is one of the good ones. It is not a super quick read, but very manageable when compared to Roland Huntford's massive work "Scott and Amundsen." Although the title of Thomson's book includes the names of all three of the chief South Pole competing explorers, he covers Scott and his crew much more extensively than the other two (the original 1977 release of the book was entitled "Scott's Men," so Scott was the main focus of his study at one time).

Thomson admits that Scott was a childhood hero of his (pg. x). His coverage of Scott's background is at times deeply analytical, jumps around a bit and is rather flowery, even ending with a lengthy poem Scott penciled in his address book (pg. 24). His examination of Scott's marriage to a woman of means seemed overly analytical as well: "So long a history of family making-do had numbed Scott permanently, and the rift of self-doubt in his character has every debilitating trace of fallen gentry. Is there another lure in the south here? That it was a world free from the cost of living?" (huh?) (pg. 88).

Thomson's research had him abating Scott's heroic image by finding flaws in his judgment and character (i.e. not being open to the advice of others or learning from the past experiences of fellow explorers). Still, Thomson's book, although a little controversial in England when it was first published, doesn't go quite as far as Huntford's sometimes vicious account.

Due to the title of the book and the more thorough examination of Scott, it comes to reason that a reader may see the other two main players in ways they compare (usually favorably) to Scott. That is what this reader took from this book, anyway. Amundsen was the racer, Scott was the journeyer (pg. 111); Amundsen's aim was to be the first to reach the Pole, Scott's publicized goal--although privately it was probably the same as Amundsen's--was scientific research and not competition. Amundsen immersed himself in Arctic culture and was keen to learn survival techniques from the natives when he successfully ventured to find the Northwest passage. Scott often did not heed the advice or the example of others whether it be the eating of seal and penguin meat or the use of dogs (the squeamishness of working dogs was also due to British culture abhorring the practice--pg. 61).

Shackleton and Amundsen regarded their crew on equal standing while Scott continued the cast system. Shackleton was more drawn to the South than Scott (pg. 95). The former returned to the Pole even after it was discovered, Thomson questions whether Scott would have done the same (pg. 102). In 1908, when Shackleton penetrated the South further than anyone, he turned back to save his men. Scott "pressed on because it was the plan" (pg. 110).

One interesting point that keeps surfacing in the book is that, despite all his research on the subject, Thomson finds the whole race to the South Pole (as well as to the moon and other such endeavors) as "marginal," "pointless" (pp. 2-3), "a futile and fatal pursuit" (pg. 170), "purposelessness" and "senseless" (pp. 281-2). Certainly, the efforts of Scott's men to collect emperor penguin eggs at Cape Crozier was an example of "the measurable achievement [being] less than the momentous endurance," of course the team did not know the meager results of their efforts at the time (pp. 215-21). However meaningless the race to the Pole was in the scheme of life, it still makes for an intriguing story that is the subject of many nice books, including this one. For a contemporary account of Scott's failed pursuit to be the first the reach the South Pole that includes a new line of research, I highly recommend "The Coldest March" by Susan Solomon.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Race to the South Pole 8 Jan 2006
By D. S. Thurlow - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
David Thomson's "Scott, Shackleton, and Amundsen" is sub-titled "Ambition and Tragedy in the Antarctic", which nicely captures the thrust of the book. At the heart of the narrative is the race by a handful of competing explorers ambitious for the glory of being first to the South Pole.

First off is Shackleton's 1907-1908 expedition, which walked to a remarkable 88 degrees South latitude, literally within a few days march of the Pole. Shackleton made the hard decision to turn back because he correctly realized how desperately narrow his team's margin of survival had become. From Shackleton's attempt should have come hard lessons in just how strenuous and tenuous life would be in the extreme conditions of Antarctica.

Scott and Amundsen launched expeditions in 1911-1912. Amundsen, a Norwegian with considerable experience in the Arctic, learned from previous expeditions and traveled by the proven means of skis and dog sleds. His team made a remarkably fast and ultimately uneventful run, achieving the South Pole first.

Scott's expedition experimented with primitive motor vehicles and ponies, both badly unsuited to the conditions, and ended up dragging a sledge over the ice and snow. Scott's team persisted through a variety of challenges all the way to the South Pole and the crushing discovery that they had missed being first by a month. The struggle back from the Pole ends in tragedy, as insufficient supplies and cold weather sap the team into extinction just eleven miles from a vital depot of supplies. Ironically, Scott was at the time more famous than either of his competitors, thanks to the heroic cast given his failure by his journal, which was recovered and published by a rescue team. In retrospect, as Thomson brings out, Scott must take the responsibility for the tragedy, for failing to learn from the experiences of others, and very likely for letting pride and ambition overrun common sense.

Thomson's book is well-researched and highly readable, sown with the kind of excellent biographical detail that brings to life the men who participated in the expeditions. This book is highly recommended to those interested in polar exploration.
12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Last Place on Earth "Lite" 10 Sep 2004
By Brother Gump - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This is a pretty good review of the short era of Antarctic exploration. It's not nearly as detailed (or long) as Huntford's tome, "The Last Place on Earth," and so comparisons between the three explorers are a little more "watered down." Even so, Thomson is a tad more sympathetic of Scott without becoming a cheerleader; in fact, Thomson basically reaches similar conclusions about Scott's failings as an expeditionary commander, but manages to point out these failings without vilifying Scott (something that Huntford has been accused of doing). "Scott, Shackleton and Amundsen" also gives more detail about the men under Scott (the original title of the book was "Scott's Men") than is found in most other books about Scott et al., and I found this refreshing. If you're looking for a good review of the Antarctic saga that can be read in a few nights, then this is the book to read.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dogs' Issue - 20 April 2010
By Marek Lechowski - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I've red this book and despite a bit too florid a style, I've found it interesting and stimulating. That's the fist book about the great race to the South Pole I got hold of. Capital Robert Falcon Scott has been present in my imagination as an incontestable English gentleman who was caring the true values of the British Empire to the outskirt of the world. The world initially knew the account of his tragic journey only from his words, from his perspective. But David Thomas presents his alternative view not favorable for the Captain . In his opinion it was vividly clear from the very beginning who was going to succeed in the race and why. A sailor against an explorer who has been preparing himself for the task for all his life. Amundsen was planning , foreseeing, practicing the journey, and in every respect surpassed Scott: he could ski better, was accustomed to the extreme condition and knew exactly what his aim was from the start. Quite a separate issue, which later proved to be decisive, was their different attitude to dogs: Amundsen used them to achieve his aim and slaughter them and eat their meet when necessary apart from that believing that they are the best to carry the load in Antarctic. There is the description of Amundsen praising the merits of dog cutlets and soup as being especially nutritious delicious. Scott, an Englishmen of breed, not surprisingly loved dogs and couldn't have even imagined that they could be seen as a stock of fresh meat on four legs. Both Amundsen's pack and Scott's men didn't have guns and had to kill dogs and ponies with knives, but for Scott personally it was too much to bear and he actually didn't do it himself letting his companion to do it instead.
But Scott is seen as a imperial romantic hero who perished with a style, applying the values he though superior - more important than life. In contrast with efficient, cunning and taught Amundsen, his failure is seen and beautiful, inspiring and noble. Still he brought with him to the Antarctic not only values but also social reservations of his epoch. His journals shows that he was unjustly critical over his man and insisted on observing the social classes even in the conditions that should unite rather than divide men. In the end he lost the race and died and that made him a hero. I believe that what appeals most to the people is this fact alone : a failure can be more important, more stimulating than a success.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Not For Those Wishing Description of Antartica Exploration 23 Sep 2010
By D. Jahsman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
From the title I thought this book would give a comparison of the explorations of Scott, Shackleton, and Amundsen. I does not. Instead, it is a tedious and repetitious exploration of Scott's character and how it led to his failure.
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